A $200 back-to-school giveaway for needy kids sparked a mad rush for money on the streets of New York on Tuesday.
"It's free money!" said Alecia Rumph, 26, who waited in a Morris Park, Bronx, line 300 people deep for the cash to buy uniforms and book bags for her two kids.
"Thank God for Obama. He's looking out for us."
Thousands of people lined up at banks and check-cashing shops to withdraw the cash that magically appeared on their electronic benefit cards.
Some rushed out because of rumors the money would vanish by the end of the day.
"Rumors, there's always rumors," said Teresa Medina, who waited four hours at a Pay-O-Matic in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, to get $600 for her three teenagers - just in case they were true.
The no-strings-attached money went to families receiving food stamps or welfare.
Every child between 3 and 17 was eligible for $200, which worked out to 813,845 kids across the state - including 498,866 in the city.
"Times are really tough right now. The situation is bad with money. So it's easy to want to use the money for other things," said Ana Barcos, 31, of Corona, Queens, where 200 people waited outside a check-cashing business.
"But if the money's supposed to be for my kids, then I will use it for my kids."
Billionaire philanthropist George Soros gave $35 million toward the program, with $140 million in federal stimulus funds routed through state government making up the rest.
"It's a help," said Tania Gomez of Chelsea, who withdrew $600 for her kids. "Every penny counts nowadays. It's really something that was unexpected."
Storekeepers were glad to hear about the program, too - and the notebooks, clothes and backpacks it would buy.
"It's good for everyone," said Aziz Boughroum, 31, who works at Stevdan Pen & Stationers in the West Village.
Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg joined Soros to announce the payments at Public School 208 in Harlem, where the billionaire reminisced that as a penniless student in London, he survived because of a handout he got from Quakers.
"This gift has a special personal meaning to me, because I was once also a recipient of charity," Soros said in a choking voice. "I'm very pleased that I'm able to repay what they gave me."
Paterson's Republican critics blasted the giveaway, saying he should spend the money to reduce property taxes.
"It is a plan that is ripe for fraud and abuse," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. "This is a totally irresponsible use of federal stimulus money."
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