For millions of middle-class families, the check is in the mail -- $400, $800, perhaps more -- courtesy of Congress. Parents benefiting from the expanded child tax credit will welcome the cash, but some question the wisdom of such payouts at a time of deficits and cutbacks.
"I'd rather have the public services and the public schools have the money they need," said Jean Powers, 41, a mother of two from Beaverton, Ore. "I'm not happy with it."
Even more displeased are some of the low-income parents not receiving the checks -- notably those who earn less than roughly $26,000 and are excluded from the credit because they don't pay enough federal income tax.
"I'm very angry," said Linda Hayes, 40, an office manager in Grand Rapids, Mich. A single mother, she supports a 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter on a $23,000 salary.
"I'm tired of working hard and still not being able to provide properly for my children," she said. "I'm tired of having to choose canned vegetables instead of fresh ones. I feel I don't count, my kids don't count."
She said some better-off families might simply invest their payments; she would have used hers to get car repairs and corrective lens for her son, who lacks medical insurance.
The first round of rebate checks for the child tax credit were mailed out Friday, aimed primarily at families earning $26,000 to $110,000 with children under 17. Worth up to $400 per child, the checks are the result of a tax cut enacted in May.
"I'm happy to get money in the summer because money is tight," said Tom Franke, a high school teacher, swim coach and father of two from Maple Grove, Minn. But he questioned whether the credit made sense as the federal deficit grows.
"The government is cutting our funding to our schools, and that makes me a little bit nervous. We needed extra money to fund our war," he said. "There are better ways to spend this money."
Randi Born of Plymouth, Minn., said the checks will be welcome at a time when her two teenage sons are preparing to return to school
"It is just kind of like a little gift," said Born. "If I was good person I would donate it. But maybe what the government wants me to do is to spend it and stimulate the economy."
The rebate checks are to be mailed by Aug. 8 to more than 25 million taxpayers. Critics contend the program should be extended to 7 million more low-income households with about 12 million children.
Melinda Dutton, director of policy at the New York branch of the Children's Defense Fund, said the economic stimulus would be greater if the House of Representatives dropped its opposition to including those poor families.
"Nobody is more likely to put it right into the economy than low-income working families." she said. "They are struggling to pay for child care, rent, groceries."
That argument resonated with Anna Connor, a mother of two from Albany, N.Y.
"It's not going to make a big difference for me," she said of her expected check. "I feel bad for the people who need it and aren't going to get it."
"There are better ways to stimulate the economy," agreed Eileen Holand, a real estate agent and mother of three from New Richmond, Wis.
Joan Medlen of Portland, Ore., who has two children, was pleased to hear about the payment.
But with a teenager suffering from Down syndrome and autism, the money won't go far, Medlen said. Unlike some states, Oregon doesn't provide financial assistance to middle-class families that have children with disabilities.
"We put out significant money for skilled care for our child," she said. "Eight-hundred dollars, while helpful, doesn't even make a dent."
Curt Roseman, 32, of Cary, N.C., said the check for his two children would likely go into their college savings plan, not for a shopping spree.
"Not until I see the economy turn around a little more," said Roseman, a utility company employee. "Until people see unemployment rates go down, they're not going to spend discretionary cash."
Paul Lynch, 54, a parks worker in Cincinnati, said his check will go toward his 13-year-old son's tuition at a parochial school.
"It's useful," he said. "As far as stimulating the economy, I don't think so. They (Washington) have tried everything, and nothing seems to work."
But Toby Placencia, 45, of Vancouver, Wash., had no complaints and no quibbling. "Any time the government doesn't take more money, it's a good idea," he said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)