WASHINGTON (CNN) - Grandparents, retirees and struggling seniors have waited months for this.
Tens of millions of Social Security recipients will see their bank accounts jump by $250 starting Thursday, when the government began sending out checks and transferring funds for a one-time boost coming from the stimulus bill passed in February.
The payments are flowing to nearly 55 million seniors and retirees between now and June fourth, with a huge chunk of checks hitting the mail this week.
"Approximately half of them will be out in the next day or two," Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue told CNN Thursday.
The money will arrive in the same way that each person receives their regular Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) funds. Thus, if a person receives a Social Security check in the mail, the $250 stimulus payment will also appear in their mailbox. An increasing amount of people use direct deposit, so many seniors and SSI recipients could see the $250 boost in their accounts immediately.
Social Security and SSI recipients make up the largest groups to get the stimulus money, but it will also go out to railroad retirees and disabled veterans. Those agencies will release the funds separately.
All told, the government estimates some 64 million Americans will receive the one-time stimulus checks this year, at a cost of $13 billion to the federal budget.
This comes as the Obama administration continues a public relations push to show the $787 billion stimulus act is warming up the economy. Astrue noted that these $250 payments are going out weeks before the deadline and are, by far, the largest single stimulus payment to individual Americans.
"This is a point in time where some of the first big chunks of stimulus money is actually going into the economy," Astrue said.
Meanwhile, there is vigorous debate over how stimulus payments are spent in tough times. Will the checks do anything for the overall economy?
Astrue's agency has asked seniors to e-mail and tell what they plan to do with the $250. He admits that some expect to save the money or pay off debts, but he insists that many responses list hands-on spending.
"We get people who say they'll buy paint, we get people who say they'll buy furniture," he said. "Quite a few of our recipients say they'll buy clothes or school supplies for their grandkids."