HARTFORD, Conn. – President Bush announced Friday that the Internal Revenue Service would begin depositing rebates into taxpayer accounts on Monday – four days earlier than expected.
Bush said the tax rebates, approved as part of a bipartisan $168 billion stimulus package earlier this year, will help consumers cope with the rising cost of living and lift the country out of what the president refers to as an “economic slowdown.”
“Your rebate is on the way,” Bush said in remarks on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for an anti-malaria event and GOP fundraiser in Connecticut.
“This money is going to help Americans offset the high prices we’re seeing at the gas pump and at the grocery store, and it will also give our economy a boost to help us pull out of this economic slowdown.”
Eligible taxpayers may receive up to $1,200 per couple and $300 per child under the stimulus package, and those who use direct deposit will start seeing rebate funds in their bank accounts as early as Monday. Paper rebate checks for other taxpayers will start being sent on May 9, a week ahead of schedule, the administration said.
The speedier time frame gave Bush a chance to focus attention on a stimulus package that he has cast as a virtual lifeline for the economy, insisting repeatedly in recent months that the expenditures will result in a surge of consumer spending to kick-start the economy. Officials said that about $50 billion of rebates should be in taxpayer hands by the end of May, and more than $100 billion a month later.
Congressional Democrats, while saying they welcomed the rebates that they also supported, said they were troubled by Bush’s shift in emphasis toward using the money for staples rather than broader consumer spending.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush’s remarks underscore the need for a second stimulus package, which the administration and GOP lawmakers have so far resisted.
“It’s galling to think that taxpayers’ stimulus checks will be lining the pockets of OPEC,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., referring to record oil prices. “The sad truth is that the average American family will spend almost their entire stimulus check on higher gas prices this year.”
Under pressure from a collapsing credit and housing market, Bush has repeatedly urged caution in considering more federal intervention, in part because he said the stimulus checks could provide the boost the economy needs. “The effects of the stimulus will begin to reach millions of households across our country,” he said Friday.
But as he has for months, Bush declined to refer to the current economic downturn as a “recession,” preferring “slowdown” instead. Most economists believe the United States has probably entered a recession, however; an official quarterly report from the government is due next week.
The Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index on Friday hit its weakest level in 26 years amid heightened worries over inflation and housing. The survey group also said the tax rebates are likely to have only a limited effect on the worsening economy.