U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said on Friday that an economic stimulus program that will put $168 billion into consumers' hands this year and next could help create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
"We know they're going to be helpful," Paulson said on CNN television. "These (tax rebate) checks should be a big part of adding 500,000 to 600,000 additional jobs this year."
Some 130 million Americans are to get tax rebate checks up to about $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples, with the first of the checks to start flowing in early May.
On other issues, Paulson said it was important to maintain stable, orderly financial markets and said the Treasury was trying to help mortgage-holders who are in difficulty voluntarily work out repayment options with lenders.
Treasury announced earlier this week that the Internal Revenue Service will keep about 320 offices open on Saturday to encourage an estimated 20 million Americans who do not normally file a tax return to do so.
Only people who file returns will be eligible for rebate checks.
Paulson turned aside a question on whether the government should become more directly involved in helping mortgage holders who face trouble keeping up their payments and are facing foreclosure in growing numbers.
"We've been doing a lot to reach out to the average homeowner," Paulson said, pointing out that only 2 percent of homeowners were facing foreclosure. "We have an effort to help all those who can avoid foreclosure do so."
He said more than one million people had been helped through a voluntary alliance of lenders and servicers, representing 90 percent of so-called subprime mortgage lenders, who are helping homeowners find new payment options.