Orange County to Use COVID Funds to Alleviate Residents’ Medical Debts

Orange County to Use COVID Funds to Alleviate Residents’ Medical Debts

Orange County to Use COVID Funds to Alleviate Residents’ Medical Debts 1760 980 Ines

In a groundbreaking move, Orange County, Florida, is poised to become the first county in the state to utilize leftover COVID-19 funds from the American Rescue Plan to relieve residents of their medical debts. The county commission has earmarked approximately $4.5 million for this initiative, which is expected to significantly benefit thousands of residents burdened by medical expenses.

The decision, discussed at a recent county commission meeting, comes in response to passionate pleas from community members like Ashe Heart, a student grappling with substantial medical debt. Heart shared a personal story, highlighting the struggles faced by many: “I cannot take out any loans for school or other medical necessities. I can’t take out loans to help pay for medical expenses that my therapist prescribed to me that my insurance company won’t pay for.”

Despite the progress, the specific processes and timelines for the debt relief program remain undecided. No further discussions have been scheduled, leaving residents awaiting detailed plans.

The advocacy group Central Florida Jobs With Justice had initially pushed for a larger allocation of $8.5 million, aiming to cover the medical debts of approximately 300,000 residents. Although the approved amount is less than requested, it marks a significant step toward addressing medical debt in the community.

During the public comment period, Tara Felten underscored the interconnectedness of medical debt and basic needs. “We’ve been told that medical debt relief is a low priority due to focusing on issues like housing and food,” Felten stated. “We, of course, agree that residents need to have their basic needs met. But to claim that debt isn’t a direct link to a family’s ability, or lack of ability, to provide for themselves is a grave misunderstanding of the realities of poor and working-class communities.”

This initiative by Orange County represents a pioneering effort in Florida to alleviate financial burdens on residents using federal COVID-19 relief funds, setting a potential precedent for other counties to follow.

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