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U.S. Treasurer Withrow Launches 1999 Savings Bond Drive

By Rich McManus

Bond campaign kickoff drives at NIH are getting to be old hat for Mary Ellen Withrow, treasurer of the United States, who returned May 12 for the second year in a row to launch the annual savings effort. So comfortable is she with the crowd here that when one of a dozen festive balloons surrounding the podium in front of Bldg. 1 popped, she simply quipped, "Kind of keeps me alive up here, you know? What's a bond campaign without balloons?"

U.S. Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow

The eruption did nothing to interfere with her cheerful pitch about the importance of saving, and her enthusiasm about the roll-out of new coins and bills from the U.S. Treasury. To go with the new $20 bills introduced last September, she announced that new $5 and $10 notes are coming this year. "The $20 bill was a success — I hope you like it," she said to the modest gathering of selected bond canvassers, nearly all of them evidently fond of twenties. "Did you know it has a hidden feature? If a blind person holds the bill up to a machine readable device, it will tell you the denomination."

New quarters are on their way too, she reported. "The New Jersey quarter was just struck. On Jan. 4, 1999, the Delaware quarter was introduced. Then we'll have Pennsylvania, and New Jersey on May 17. Then Georgia and Connecticut." Seven hundred fifty million quarters will be introduced for each state, she said, which will be a great boon to kids who collect coins, and are interested in history.

Withrow adds her signature — for the second time —
to fresh $1 bills for a long line of NIH'ers.

The quarter program is slated to last through 2008, or 2009, depending on whether Congress permits territories and D.C. to have coins struck in their honor, she said. "And for $12.50, you can buy the whole collection!" she enthused. "It's fun to see what you have on the back of your quarter."

A new dollar coin was announced at the White House in early May, to be released next year, Withrow said. Featuring Sacagawea (the Shoshone Indian woman who was critical to the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) holding her infant son Jean Baptiste, "It will be the first coin with a baby on it."

Vice President Al Gore introduced last September the new I Bond, which Withrow predicted would be a big hit. The earnings rates of I Bonds are a combination of two separate rates: a fixed rate of return and a variable semiannual inflation rate, tied to the Consumer Price Index. The fixed rate remains the same throughout the life of the I Bond, while the semiannual inflation rate can vary every 6 months; some $257 million worth of I Bonds have been sold thus far. It costs the face value — a $100 bond costs $100 — but earnings are exempt from state and local income taxes. "It's a great thing to think about — we expect brisk sales," Withrow said.

NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz urges nonsavers to take advantage of the painless method of buying bonds — through deductions from paychecks.

She said some 55 million Americans currently hold about $186 billion in U.S. Savings Bonds. The investment "has been a staple for our government. Every morning when you get up, you own a little more of America. And it doesn't cost much." She recommended bonds as a part of every American's portfolio of investments, admonishing, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket."

Americans save about 4.2 percent of their disposable income, she said, which is a very low proportion. "We're not thinking about the future, and we're not saving. Things might not always be so good economically (as they are now)," she warned. She concluded with a formula: "Yesterday is a canceled check, tomorrow is a promissory note, and today is cash," then left the podium to man a table at which she added her autograph — for the second time — to stacks of fresh new $1 bills for a long line of interested NIH'ers.

Serenade, a subset of the Alexandria Harmonizers, entertains the crowd with tunes from their barbershop quartet repertoire.

NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein urged the canvassers "to make this the best bond campaign season ever," and cautioned that flush economic times can delude employees into thinking things will never worsen. "When times are good, people think they will always be good, and usually they are. But not always."

Dr. Stephen Katz, director of NIAMS, which is sponsoring the bond drive at NIH this year, couldn't resist letting the dermatologist in him show itself; he congratulated those in the audience who sought shade from a sunny afternoon. "Most people do save, but many don't," he said. "Those are the people we are gearing our effort towards. People who don't save regularly need to know that bonds are the easiest way to save." If funds are deducted from your paycheck automatically, "you don't even miss it because you don't see it."

As the canvassers were treated to a pizza luncheon on the lawn of Bldg. 1, Serenade, a barbershop quartet that is part of the larger Alexandria Harmonizers, entertained the gathering.

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