By now, most of us probably have spent the cash we received from the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. It's not the first time that our government sent us money to jump-start a sluggish economy. It is however the first time the stimulus payments also included funds to folks who hadn't paid income taxes, as long as they were able to provide social security numbers. The checks we received this year were larger than those we got in 2001 or previously; but that's equitable; so is the amount of inflation in our money, and the depth of our current economic dysfunction.


I hadn't noticed many changes in the economy after I spent the money from those tax rebates so I'm a little skeptical about this one having any sweeping impact. I don't want to discourage the government from giving us money. It's nice to get something from the IRS that can be put into the bank. If our leaders are sincere about wanting us to use this cash bonus to purchase something, I respectfully offer some suggestions that may be helpful to our leaders when they send us spending money again.


I suggest that instead of cash, they send us Gift Cards. That way, congress can be sure we won't use our windfall to reduce burdensome outstanding balances on loans or credit cards nor to pay our escalating utility bills. The gift cards should have an expiration date to assure that they don't get stashed under the mattress where we might also be hording household cash that we haven't entrusted to the banks that are paying at bottomed-out interest rates. These Gift Cards will be as valuable as the US dollar.


Gift Cards have many advantages over cash. The participating merchants will be able to pass information back to the economists in the Government Accounting Office to help them measure the actual increase in purchasing in real dollars. This information would assist congress in evaluating if the program should be repeated in a non election year. The present method measures money paid out of the Treasury but has only crude monitoring systems to see how it was spent. Having proper numbers would circumvent the need for another public opinion poll.


It shouldn't matter what the participating merchants in the Gift Card Economic Stimulus Program are selling because the idea seems to be a desire to stimulate all segments of our economic growth. Although some of us would prefer grocery store Gift Cards, choosing the merchants ourselves might be unfair to high-end merchants like travel agents, nightclubs, jewelers, and gas stations who would also like their sales stimulated.


There are considerations other than fairness that should be used in selecting the participating Gift Card vendors. I suggest that participating merchants have no off-shore locations. Using home-based vendors will assure that the rebates don't turn into remittances that are spent outside our national boarders and inadvertently help foreign economies instead of ours.


Another requirement should be that companies participating in the Gift Card program only sell goods that have been manufactured or grown in the US. If our government does not impose this made-in-the-USA restriction, we will be stimulating economies all over the world. Once we start doing that, we may have to implement Economic Stimulus Packages every year to equalize the playing field - at least until the wages in third world countries comport with those of our working class.


The Gift Cards can be magnetically encoded. Something could be implemented similar to the devices that retailers attach to expensive merchandise. The Economic Stimulus Gift Cards of the future could have anti-theft imprints that can be detected at critical locations like airports, harbors and the US boarders. This would insure that the cards are not sold at black-market prices to foreign travelers entering the county to shop for bargains at our local stores.


Filing tax returns to establish eligibility is an effective way to run the program and should be continued. It's useful to increase the number of people listed on the tax roles. This way, the IRS can send the folks, who were previously non-filers, reminder memos should they consider dropping out of the tax compliance system at a later date.