Reuters and the Guardian both report one of Occupy Wall Street’s spinoff groups, the Rolling Jubilee Project, announcing this week that they have successfully bought $14.7 million in healthcare debt accumulated by Americans for roughly $400,000.
Rolling Jubilee was set up by the OWS debt group Strike Debt! after the widespread financial protests in 2011. Andrew Ross, a member of Strike Debt! and a sociocultural analysis professor at New York University, said “We thought that the ratio would be about 20 to 1. In fact we’ve been able to buy debt a lot more cheaply than that.”
Bigger lenders that deal with failed bills from loans, insurance, or credit cards often sell the debt at a loss to a third party for a fraction of the debt’s actual value. Debt-buying companies will pay pennies per dollar, then try to collect from the debtors for a profit. Strike Debt! has managed to relieve 2693 people of debts they owed for medical services that OWS believes should be universal. The remainder of their funds will likely go to relieving some student loan debt.
Ross acknowledged the seemingly futile objectives of Strike Debt! when he said, “We’re under no illusions that $15m is just a tiny drop in the secondary debt market. It doesn’t make a dent in the amount of debt. Our purpose in doing this, aside from helping some people along the way – there’s certainly many, many people who are very thankful that their debts are abolished – our primary purpose was to spread information about the workings of this secondary debt market.”
When the OWS offshoots purchase debt, they receive no information about the person who’s debt they are abolishing other than an address. They mail a letter to explain how the person’s debt was cancelled; that letter is the group’s only direct contact with debtors. However, Ross noted that “one person wrote back and said that he had gone through periods of being homeless and he was trying to get back on his feet.”
If you want learn more about economic inequality in the United States, check out these enlightening charts from Business Insider.[Image via RollingJubilee.org]