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September 23, 2008

Francene

Stimulate this

I need to break a cardinal rule. 

Even though this is my very first of what I hope will be a long line of LEO Weekly columns, I’m going to tell you how much money I make.

I know discussing compensation is indelicate. Still, I’m naming numbers — because I didn’t get a tax rebate check from the government’s economic stimulus plan. And now some members of Congress are thinking about doling out stimulus funds again.  

You think I was pissed before? You should see me now.

Stimulus checks went to nearly 130 million households. My house was not one of them. Government wonks with calculators decided I didn’t deserve to be stimulated economically.  

I found out the hard way, too. For weeks I waited while everyone around me got flush with government cash. Finally, I called the IRS. I typed in my Social Security number. I waited on hold for seven minutes. Then a nasty little recording pseudo-politely informed me I didn’t qualify for a check.

I made too much money!

Now I knew there were income limits for getting stimulus checks. I knew only single- tax filers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $75,000 (and couples filing jointly with combined gross incomes of less than $150,000) qualified.

But I’m not a lawyer or vice president at Humana or Yum. I’m a journalist. To make the ever-so-slightly-over $75,000 I made last year took not one but three jobs. Three! I worked my primary job hosting a radio talk show Monday through Friday; a second job reporting TV news in Cincinnati on Friday and Saturday nights; and a third job writing newspaper editorials on Sundays. 

I worked a truly hellacious schedule to get ahead financially. What did I get for it? Penalized, that’s what I got.  

Our government doesn’t care I and others like me work multiple jobs or toil seven days a week. The government only knows that according to the 2006 census, the median annual household income was $48,201. In the government’s collective pea brain, I was too rich to get even a teeny little piece of the $168 billion stimulus package. Far be it for me to infuse the economy.  

Admittedly, I chose to work extra jobs. But that’s because I’m paying $4 for a gallon of gas, plus already sky-high LG&E rates are slated to go up again. 

I certainly could have used a check for $600. Even $200 would’ve helped.

My across-the-street neighbors spent their respective $600 checks on a limestone porch. My next-door neighbor spent her $600, plus her kid’s $300, on new bedroom furniture. My sister’s family spent their $1,700 seeing Mickey Mouse.

You know what I spent? I spent the Labor Day weekend up to my elbows in spackle, putting two coats of paint on my living room and spare bedroom walls. I couldn’t afford to hire painters because the government decided I didn’t deserve economic stimulation.

And now it’s contemplating faking another economic orgasm and showering stimulus money on us again. 

Let me tell you, I earned a check. Ask around. There is a whole struggling-to-be-upper middle class level of hard workers who pay into the system, purposely live with little debt and ardently put away retirement savings. Yet we weren’t rewarded with stimulus checks; we were passed over. Don’t even get me started on the inequity of why a married couple, which cumulatively earned $75,000, rated two checks while I got bupkis.  

Oh, but this is an election year. Republicans and Democrats alike need to appear as if they are doing something to help citizens. That’s the reason for the money encore.  

The second stimulus plan is rumored to be in the $50-$75 billion ballpark. According to a former treasury secretary who testified before the House Budget Committee, the plan would increase unemployment benefits, expand food stamps and heating subsidies, upgrade federal Medicaid spending and fund highway projects.

What’s good is that most funds, and the tax cuts that go with them, will be allocated to education, energy and transportation projects, thus creating jobs that can’t be outsourced because they are part of infrastructure advancements.

What I’m skeptical about is the second round of tax rebate checks that some Democrats — including Sen. Barack Obama — believe should be part of the stimulus plan, and whether I will be included. 

I didn’t finish the trim in the bedroom. So to the distinguished members of Congress: I’m asking for a little help. This year I decided to only work two jobs. If you must send more stimulus checks, either include me or show up with brush and roller. 


Francene Cucinello hosts a radio talk show weekdays 9-11:45 a.m. on 84WHAS.