From my conversations with constituents on the South Coast and elsewhere in my district, it is clear to me America is facing challenging economic times. More of our neighbors are struggling to make ends meet while the cost of essentials like groceries, gas and health care continue to rise rapidly and place enormous strain on families. Combined with slow job growth, a drop in family income, a volatile stock market, and a very troubled housing market, anxiety about our economy has grown sharply.

Last year, the Democratic-led Congress made significant progress in addressing the health of our economy in a number of important ways. We enacted billions of dollars in tax relief for middle-income Americans and small businesses, passed legislation to address the subprime mortgage crisis, increased the minimum wage for the first time in a decade, enacted a landmark energy bill that will reduce energy costs, and instituted the largest college cost assistance package since the 1944 GI bill. While this was a good start, we recognize that this growing economic uncertainty demands further action by the federal government to help ease the burden for American families and small businesses.

Last week, the House of Representatives and the Senate came together and finalized work on an economic stimulus package, the Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act (H.R. 5140). The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and President Bush is expected to sign this legislation into law Wednesday.

Our bill provides a tax rebate to more than 130 million families, including 35 million families who work but do not earn enough to pay income taxes — although they do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. More than 19 million of these recipients are families with children. Americans who earned at least $3,000 in 2007 will get at least $300 per individual and up to $1,200 per couple, plus a child tax credit of $300 per child for up to two children. It also extends these rebates to approximately 27 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans. This provision also includes payments to the survivors of disabled veterans.

Online Town Hall Meeting

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, will answer questions about the recently passed stimulus package at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. For details or to submit your questions, visit her Web site by clicking here.

Our economic stimulus package is a timely, targeted and temporary measure designed to help jump-start our fragile economy by providing rebates to millions of middle-income Americans and small businesses. Because they would almost certainly not spend this tax rebate, the wealthiest taxpayers are not eligible for this relief. Rebate checks should begin arriving in mailboxes across the country by mid-May, quickly putting money in the hands of American families and encouraging small businesses to invest in our economy. According to the Treasury Department, California should receive $12.4 billion, with an average tax rebate of $844 going to nearly 15 million households.

While I agree with many economists who argue that increasing food stamps, unemployment assistance and aid to states would also be important for our economy, this package is a good first step to help families through these difficult financial times. I hope that in the coming months Congress and the president can again work together on additional steps to help further stabilize our economy.

Given the interest in our economic situation and the economic stimulus package, I would like to invite members of our community to join me for an online town hall meeting at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday. I will be taking questions on the details of the stimulus package and welcome your participation. If you would like to submit a question ahead of time please visit my Web site and send me your questions. I will do my best to answer as many as possible during our town hall meeting. Please feel free to ask more than one question.

Rep Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, represents Santa Barbara County’s South Coast in the 23rd Congressional District.