TOM RAUM Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
President Bush said tax rebates will start going out Monday, earlier than previously announced, and should help Americans cope with rising gasoline and food prices, as well as aid a slumping economy. "Starting Monday, the effects of the stimulus will begin to reach millions of households across our country," Bush said today in remarks on the South Lawn of the White House. The Internal Revenue Service had been saying direct deposits wouldn't start until next Friday. Bush said paper checks would begin going out on May 9, a week earlier than previously announced. "The money is going to help Americans offset the high prices we're seeing at the gas pump, the grocery store, and also give our economy a boost to help us pull out of this economic slowdown," Bush said. Bush's emphasis on fuel and food prices differed from other comments he's made since signing the economic stimulus legislation, intended to aid the economy by boosting overall consumer spending which accounts for roughly twothirds of the nation's economic activity. Bush suggested the rebates could trigger a spending spree. "When the money reaches the American people, we expect they will use it to boost consumer spending," he said last month. By saying expressly that people could use these one-time checks to pay for such necessities as food and gas, Bush underscored the deepening challenges facing the economy. As he had earlier in the week, Bush used the word "slowdown" to describe the state of the economy. He has denied that the nation is in a recession, although many economists say it is. "It's obvious our economy is in a slowdown. But, fortunately, we recognized the signs early and took action," Bush said. The rebates up to $600 for an individual, $1,200 for a couple and an additional $300 for each dependent child are the centerpiece of the government's $168 billion stimulus package, enacted in February. Roughly 130 million households are Expected to get them. Bush made the comments before boarding his helicopter at the start of a day trip to Connecticut. People must file a tax return for their 2007 income to be eligible for a rebate check. The IRS now says all checks for those who filed tax returns on time are scheduled to be deposited or mailed by July 11. The economy burdened by the collapse of home prices, a financial and credit crisis, and now rising energy and food prices grew at an anemic 0.6 percent in the final three months of last year and is believed to have gotten even weaker in the first three months of this year. The government will report on the first quarter's performance next week. With the economy faltering, the nation's unemployment rate has climbed to 5.1 percent, the highest since September 2005, when it suffered from the devastating blows of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Job losses in the first three months of this year neared the quartermillion mark. Foreclosures have surged to record highs and financial companies have taken multi-billion dollarlosses on mortgage investments that soured. The situation has sent a tremor through Wall Street and has sent the administration, Congress and presidential contenders looking for ways to provide relief.