Beliefnet

Reprinted from the Sacramento Bee

July 09, 2001--They want the money before it hits your mailbox, but it's for a good cause.

With checks from the biggest tax rebate in the country's history about to be sent out, charities and religious groups are asking taxpayers to turn over their rebate checks.

"We want the tax rebate at the Boys & Girls Club," said Dr. Viva Ettin, an organization booster. "If the refunds are meant to inflate a flat economy, don't you think that the best investment would be to invest in the futures of Sacramento's kids?"

The downtown Boys & Girls Club, where arts, tutoring, athletics and computers give youngsters an alternative to the streets, is not the only place where rebates could find a home.

Internet site donaterebate.org, which links to charities nationwide, seeks a portion of the $38 billion in rebate checks. The Reform Jewish Movement urges members of Reform congregations to donate rebate checks to charity.

Republican and Democratic operatives have been sparring over whether Democrats appealed for the rebates on the Democratic National Committee Web page.

And an organized plea has been launched by the Sacramento religious community to steer checks toward charity. Religious leaders representing Episcopal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Evangelicals, Lutheran and other denominations have dubbed their effort the "Share the Rebates" campaign.

Coordinated through the Interfaith Service Bureau, the program will use the refunds to provide shelter, food, education, utilities assistance and substance abuse rehabilitation.

A congregation can create its own fund and distribute the money. Congregations or individuals can also send checks made out to the "Share the Rebates Project" to a fund set up at Wells Fargo Bank, 400 Capitol Mall, Sacramento, CA 95814, attention Matt Kuennen.

The bank fund money will used by California Emergency Foodlink, which distributes to food closets, and the Salvation Army, which helps low-income families with high energy bills.

The first of 10 million rebate checks will be sent July 23. The checks will be distributed according to the last two numbers of the Social Security number of the first taxpayer listed on the 2000 return.

Married couples will receive up to $600; single parents will receive up to $500; and single taxpayers will get as much as $300.

It is estimated that if half the parishioners of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California donated, worthy causes could reap $850,000.

"Share the Rebates started with an idea I had of giving my rebate back to the people who are not getting it," said the Rev. James Straukamp, an Episcopal priest. "And then if one, why not others?"

Straukamp was joined by 15 other religious leaders and the Interfaith Service Bureau to find the easiest way to donate. Fliers are going out to denominations explaining the project, and the next step is to get the same message to service clubs.

"People really have not planned what to do with the rebate," Straukamp said. "None of us want to make it a political statement. It's just citizens helping citizens."

Jimmie Poxon, retired math professor from California State University, Sacramento, and a member of St. Mark's Methodist church, plans to donate her $300 check.

"I think this is the beginning of a movement," she said. "Until I heard about it, I hadn't given any thought at all about what to do with the money. I'm sure I could find something to spend it on. I could make a dent in travel costs when I go across the country to a reunion with my brother and sister." But Poxon, 78, didn't have a pressing need.

"I was certainly open to the realization that we should share something that we should never have gotten in the first place," she said. "It is silly to give money back to those who don't need it when there are people who do need it."

The theory behind the effort to stimulate the economy is that if money is put in people's hands, they will spend it, sparking an upswing and all Americans will benefit.

Bruce Bartlett, a Treasury official from 1988 to 1993 and a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, said rebates don't have much effect.

He said history tells us the rebates will be saved or used to pay off bills. That was confirmed, he said, by the 1975 rebate program during the Ford administration when rebates of up to $200 were distributed.

"Somebody like myself will just stick it in my checking account and whatever happens to it, happens to it," Bartlett said.

To jump-start the economy, the rebate must be spent immediately and not saved or invested, he said. That's not exactly what Elk Grove's Stephanie Fong has in mind.

"I think we will save it to go to Disneyland in December," said Fong, holding 3-week-old son Ryan at Arden Fair mall.

Fong said she would consider donating some of the rebate to charity. Alisa Morris, a south Sacramento mother of two children shopping at the Mervyn's in Rancho Cordova, concurred. "I plan to spend my $500 rebate on school clothes shopping," she said. "I can't wait for it to get here. I get my rebate Aug. 20, about the time my children go back to school. I had not considered giving to charity, but I would donate a portion."

That is what Ettin wants to hear: The Boys & Girls Club will hold a "Broke Ball" Friday on the roof of the parking garage next to the Sutter Club.

"Need help spending your tax rebate? Just make a charitable contribution to the Boys and Girls Clubs and be part of the fun," read invitations, soliciting a call to organizers at (916) 442-2582.

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