The first of the ballyhooed tax rebates, part of the federal government's "economic stimulus plan," will be deposited directly today into taxpayer bank accounts.

President Bush said last week that the rebates were being sent out earlier than planned to help Americans cope with rising gasoline and food prices.

The rebates - up to $600 for an individual, $1,200 for a couple, and an additional $300 for each dependent child - are part of a $168 billion stimulus package.

About 130 million households will receive a lump sum payout. Nearly every citizen who filed a tax return on time this year is eligible to receive a wallet full of cash.

Originally intended to give the slumping economy a shot in the arm, the rebates were designed to trigger a consumer spending spree. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

But last week, the president conceded that Americans would most likely use the onetime payments to buy food, gas, and other necessities.

"This money is going to help Americans offset the high prices we're seeing at the gas pump, at the grocery store, and will also give our economy a boost to help us pull out of this economic slowdown," Bush said Friday.

A trio of crises - housing, credit and financial - has threatened to plunge the economy deep into recession.

Since Bush took office, the average price of a home in Philadelphia has grown by a factor of four. A South Philadelphia rowhouse that sold in 2001 for $75,000 now costs $300,000.

Gold has risen from $266 an ounce on Bush's 2001 inauguration day to open this morning at $892.

A barrel of light crude oil cost under $30 in January 2001, and this morning was trading for $118. Gasoline on Jan. 22, 2001, averaged $1.43 per gallon nationwide; last week Mid-Atlantic motorists paid an average $3.48.

In contrast, the federally mandated minimum wage has grown from $5.15 to $5.85 during the same period. Minimum wage workers can expect it to jump to $6.55 on July 24.

Bush estimated that nearly 7.7 million Americans will receive their rebates by direct deposit by the end of the week. The IRS will begin mailing checks May 9 to taxpayers who filed through the mail.

To estimate the amount of your refund go to http://www.irs.gov/app/espc/.