Cleveland City Council Introduces Medical Debt Forgiveness Legislation

CLEVELAND - Cleveland City Council introduced legislation to help Clevelanders eliminate approximately $200 million in medical debt for about 50,000 Cleveland residents at its January 23 council meeting. Preliminary estimates indicate that an investment of $1.9 million in ARPA funds will eliminate more than $190 million in medical debt. Council members Kris Harsh (ward 13) & Charles Slife (ward 17) previously met with representatives from RIP Medical Debt - an organization known for its work with municipalities nationwide to eliminate medical debt.

Council President Blaine A. Griffin and members Kris Harsh (ward 13), Charles Slife (Ward 17), Richard Starr (ward 5), Kevin Conwell (Ward 9), and Rebecca Maurer (ward 12) are the co-sponsors of the ordinance.

The ordinance is consistent with the Council’s commitment to resolving health inequities in disadvantaged communities, especially communities of color. Medical debt forgiveness is in line with Council’s commitment to resolving inequities, as stated in Res. 296-2020, which declared racism a public health crisis.

Council member Charles Slife, one of the ordinance’s sponsors, shared, “Council is constantly looking for innovative ways to improve life outcomes and the financial well-being of Clevelanders. The introduction of this ordinance is just one way we are working to represent our constituents and put government resources to work for them. Unlike other APRA proposals that may become administratively burdensome, medical debt forgiveness can be achieved in a relatively short span of time and bring tangible support to Clevelanders.” 
Council President Blaine A. Griffin, also one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors stated, “The influx of ARPA funding allows us to use once-in-a-lifetime resources to make real change for Clevelanders. We know this ordinance if passed, will alleviate some burden from the shoulder of tens of thousands of Clevelanders.” 
“This ordinance would impact every neighborhood in our city,” Council member Kris Harsh continued. “By forgiving medical debt, Council will support Cleveland households by decreasing their debt obligations and increasing discretionary dollars.”

Medical debt is one of the main reasons Americans file for bankruptcy. 

The ordinance will be discussed in more detail at an upcoming Health, Human Services, and the Arts (HHSA) committee before Council takes further action. 

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