LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – It’s a crisis that’s affecting thousands of Arkansans every year; debt caused by surprise medical bills that lingers long after the person heals.

But a recent Arkansas town hall focused on solving debt had a big surprise in the form of nearly $35 million dollars in forgiven debts.           

Tony McDaniel knows the struggles firsthand. In November 2020 he contracted COVID, a fight that left him in a coma for months. He returned home still on the mend, but with a new fight ahead of him – the lingering medical debt that’s still being paid off now.

“I went in the hospital and was in the hospital for 5 months,” McDaniel explained. “I started to get bills after I got home. My life got turned upside down in a matter of no time at all.”

McDaniel isn’t alone; HOPE Credit Union is familiar with the struggles of lasting debt, the topic of a recent town hall involving agencies across the state.

The goal is to find lasting policies that will erase the burden of debt. It’s a long-term hope, but there was an immediate change as well: the announcement of $35 million in debt erased from nearly 24,000 Arkansans.

“One in five Arkansans are struggling with debt,” said Diane Standaert with HOPE Credit Union. “Today was the first step.”

Organizations that hosted the town hall included the Arkansas Asset Funders Network, Arkansas Community Institute and HOPE Policy Institute and Credit Union.

Those with forgiven debt were chosen at random and will be notified by a letter from RIP Medical Debt.