Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington jointly touted the roughly $168 billion in rebates set to begin reaching Americans by Monday as a means of breathing life into a sluggish economy.

President Bush said Friday that the checks would come out a week earlier than previously announced, a move officials said would help Americans cope with basic expenses as well as pick up the country's economic slack.

"The checks don't come a moment too soon," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a rare, joint press conference with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Leader John Boehner.

The trio spoke next to a giant check made out to the public. The "memo" portion of the check described it as a "recovery rebate," an apparent attempt to convince the public these checks are the key to reviving the embattled economy.

"The money is going to help Americans offset the high prices we're seeing at the gas pumps and the grocery store and will also give our economy a boost to help us pull out of this economic slowdown," Bush said during brief remarks at the White House.

Bush said that beginning Monday "more than 7 million Americans will receive their rebates electronically." On May 9, millions more would receive their payments by paper check, he said. Roughly 130 million households are expected to get the rebates.

The economic stimulus package, which offers up to $600 to individual taxpayers and $1,200 to couples, also provides an additional $300 in rebates for each child and for non-taxpaying families. It was suggested by the White House and Congress approved the measure in January.

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

By saying expressly that people could use these one-time checks to pay for such necessities as food and gas, Bush underscored the deepening challenges facing the economy.

Democrats were quick to pick up on the change of focus.

"It's galling to think that taxpayers' stimulus checks will be lining the pockets of OPEC. The sad truth is that the average American family will spend almost their entire stimulus check on higher gas prices this year," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

OPEC is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Pelosi said that, while the rebates would help to get the economy moving, there was a need for a second stimulus package "and we have begun some conversation with the administration and Republicans."

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

"It's obvious our economy is in a slowdown," Bush said.

Earlier this week, the president denied the nation was in a recession, instead saying, "We are in a slowdown."

Hoyer left the question open Friday, saying "If we're not in a recession, the checks would help us from going into one. If we are in a recession, it could bring us out of a recession and help resuscitate the economy."

But many economists believe the economy may already be in a recession.

A trio of crises — housing, credit and financial — has threatened to plunge the economy deep into recession.

The economy grew at an anemic 0.6 percent in the final three months of last year and is believed to have gotten even weaker in the first three months of this year. The government will report on the first quarter's performance next week. A growing number of analysts believe the economy is shrinking now.

With the economy faltering, the nation's unemployment rate has climbed to 5.1 percent, the highest since September 2005, when it suffered from the devastating blows of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Job losses in the first three months of this year neared the quarter-million mark.

The collapse of the once high-flying housing market has been the biggest weight on the economy.

With many people watching their single-biggest asset — their home — falling in value, they have been less inclined to spend, weakening the economy.

Foreclosures have surged to record highs and financial companies have taken multibillion losses on mortgage investments that soured. The situation has sent a tremor through Wall Street and has sent the administration, Congress and presidential contenders looking for ways to provide relief.

FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.