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Grand Rapids church pays off almost $2M in medical debt for Michigan families

Nearly 2,000 western Michigan families will get letters this week announcing that all of their medical debt has been paid off by a local church.

Grand Rapids First, a Wyoming, Michigan, congregation, is covering 1,899 families’ medical debts — almost $2 million in total — across four Michigan counties. Through RIP Medical Debt, a New York-based debt purchasing nonprofit, Grand Rapids First paid pennies on the dollar to purchase $1.8 million in debt for about $15,000, according to the church’s executive pastor and CFO Doug Tuttle.

Grand Rapids First is now one of more than one dozen churches throughout the nation that have worked with RIP Medical Debt to tackle medical debt, an issue that contributes to two-thirds of U.S. bankruptcies. The Michigan debt repayments cover families in Kent, Ottawa, Allegan and Ionia counties that will be notified of the gift via letter from RIP Medical Debt some time this week. Tuttle said the largest single debt the church paid off was more than $75,000 in medical charges that were spread over three debt accounts belonging to one person. The gift is covered by Grand Rapids First’s missions fund, so Tuttle said no church-wide fund-raising was necessary.

Church leaders don’t know the identities of the people they’re helping, or if any of them are part of Grand Rapids First's congregation — medical privacy laws mean only RIP Medical Debt knows the gifts’ recipients. But Tuttle said RIP is intentional about choosing recipients who will most benefit from debt forgiveness, like people whose debt is disproportionate to their income or who already live in poverty.

With the gift, Grand Rapids First also hopes to reflect the mission of Christ and echo a biblical repayment of sins. The congregation was“overwhelmed” when lead pastor Sam Rijfkogel announced the payment plan Sunday morning, Tuttle said. "Today, that $1,832,439.26 that's looming over families right now, those families that are living at poverty rates or less, has been paid in full as a result of a gift from this church," Rijfkogel told the congregation during his Sunday sermon. "Paid in full, not held against them one bit."


Twins charged in shooting at Detroit coney shop that didn't serve mushrooms

Detroit — Two Detroit men, twins age 61, face multiple felony charges in a Wednesday morning shooting at a coney shop on Detroit's west side that authorities say was provoked by the restaurant not selling fried mushrooms.

Arraignments are expected Sunday morning for Dwight and Duane Samuels at 34th District Court in Romulus, which handles weekend arraignments for all of Wayne County, said Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

It was about 2 a.m. Wednesday, at Nicky D's coney shop on the 15700 block of West Seven Mile, when a 40-year-old man was beaten with a pipe and shot on his face, in an attack that was caught on camera.

The twins face an identical slate of eight charges: assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, firearm possession by a felon, carrying a concealed weapon, and four counts of felony firearm.

Police say the twins had been told that the restaurant does not sell fried mushrooms. One of them had been carrying a metal pipe; the other, a gun. Both, authorities say, allegedly used their weapons of choice to maim the victim, before fleeing from the scene in a vehicle.


VW union vote: Chattanooga workers decide against joining UAW

Volkswagen workers in Tennessee have voted against joining the United Auto Workers, sending a strong rebuke to the country's largest industrial union.

Employees voted 833 to 776 to reject unionization, amid concerns that unionization could temper the German automaker's interest in Tennessee, according to the automaker. Volkswagen employs about 1,700 workers and 3,200 temporary workers at its Chattanooga plant.

“Our employees have spoken," said Frank Fischer, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga in an emailed statement. "Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority."

The election, limited to full-time employees, began June 12 and ended June 14. A total of 1,609 votes were cast in the election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, according to Volkswagen. The NLRB will need to certify the results and there will be a legal review, Fischer said.

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