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Residents using checks with care

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By Johnathan Ryan

Lancaster County residents polled are using their economic stimulus checks carefully, by paying bills or saving the federal funds.

As of June, the federal government has sent 112 million checks out, totaling $91 billion in relief. But June sales figures only showed very small growth in stores besides car dealerships, gas stations and restaurants, at just .2 percent, according to the National Retail Federation.

It's thought by many experts that many people simply put the money into savings, the opposite of what the government wanted. The government targeted the checks at middle and low-income individuals and families in hope they would likely spend them and stimulate a slumping economy. The checks have ranged from $300 per individual whose only source of income is government benefits, $600 per working individual, $1,200 per working married couple and $300 per child.

Many last Thursday said they have used the money for necessities and to catch up on bills. A few more have put it into savings.

Necessities, like gas and food, have gone up in price in recent months. Those increases have made paying for other necessities more problematic.

Gas prices have hurt Lancaster County resident Don Jenkins. His only source of income is Social Security disability payments.

"Now I just go to the grocery and church," Jenkins said about his driving. "Before I was gone all the time, like to visit my sister."

With the $300 he received from the stimulus check in June, he bought a new transmission for his 1998 mini-van, which cost $699. The rest he borrowed from a relative.

Another woman, also on disability but working part-time, spent her $1,200 on car repair and to catch up on bills.

Last week, some Congressional Democrats suggested the need for another economic stimulus package due to higher gas and food prices. Energy aid and tax rebates to middle and lower-income Americans were also discussed.

If another check comes to Jenkins, he says it will go to more improvements on his car, which is in constant need of repair, he said.

Some people without pressing needs and limited cash can just stash their stimulus checks into savings. But with large banks failing and other tell-tale signs of a troubled economy, even that's being done out of fear in uncertain times.

"Things are crazy today. You just don't know what could happen tomorrow," said Lancaster County resident Nelson Faulkenberry, who saved his $600 in stimulus. "It's good to put it away."

Faulkenberry still considers himself fortunate because he was able to save his stimulus money. He works full-time with a large local employer and has sound finances.

He asked his elderly mother the last time she saw people photographed outside a major bank to withdraw their money, referring the recent news story about the IndyMac Bank failure/government bail-out.

"She said she couldn't read then," Faulkenberry said.

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan at jryan@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416