WASHINGTON -- President Bush says the economy is weakening but he hopes tax rebates that start going out Monday will help shore things up.

Bush says the rebates will help people cope with higher gasoline and food prices.

The rebates range from $300 to $1,200 and are the centerpiece of the government's $168 billion economic stimulus package, enacted in February. Roughly 130 million households are expected to get them. The Bush administration is hoping people will spend the money, bolstering the economy.

"Obviously our economy is in a slowdown," Bush said Friday.

The IRS says direct deposits of rebates will begin Monday, with paper checks to follow.

"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 in brief remarks at the White House.

Bush estimated that next week nearly 7.7 million Americans will receive their tax rebates by direct deposit. The IRS will start mailing checks on May 9, the president said.

The IRS says all checks for those who filed tax returns on time are scheduled to be deposited or mailed by July 11.

The Bush administration is hoping that people will spend the money, helping to bolster the economy.

"We're a little bit ahead of schedule, so we will start right on Monday with direct deposits," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Reuters in an interview Thursday.

Previously, the Treasury had planned to begin tax rebate payments in early May as part of a $152 billion stimulus plan passed in February. The checks had to wait until after the IRS processed the bulk of tax returns filed before April 15.

But Paulson noted that the economy is facing stiff headwinds from high fuel prices and a protracted housing downturn, so the administration wants to rush funds to consumers to keep the economy from deteriorating further.

"Close to 8 million people will get their stimulus payments next week," he said.

"You add that to the incentives for business to make investments, we think that will give the economy a boost, upwards of 500,000 jobs," Paulson added.

He said the economy had slowed down significantly, noting that "last quarter was a tough quarter," with continued downside risks from housing and from financial market turmoil.