Hey, Mr President, can you spare a dime?

Barack Obama often gets asked for money, and sometimes he gets his personal chequebook out

If you have a problem, and if no-one else can help, maybe you should sit down, dig out your best fountain pen, and compose a letter to the President of the United States.

Troubled by their hard-luck stories, Barack Obama has revealed he occasionally decides to respond to cash-strapped citizens who write seeking assistance the old-fashioned way: by cutting them a personal cheque.

He won't say exactly how many he has helped financially; neither will he reveal how much he gave them. But he told The Washington Post that charity was sometimes the only way.

"It's not something I should advertise, but it has happened," he said. "[But] some of these letters you read and you say, 'Gosh, I really want to help'".

Obama is not the first President to lend a helping hand. Ronald Reagan, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D Roosevelt were prepared to dig into their own pockets when required.

President Obama's handouts were revealed at the weekend by Eli Saslow, a Washington Post correspondent who interviewed Obama.

People the President has recently helped include a woman facing bankruptcy, a fourth-grade student at one of the country's worst schools, and a cleaning woman with leukaemia who was worried about medical bills. Mr Saslow says President Obama only sends cheques to correspondents when a small injection of cash can provide a quick-fix, which would take months or even years to solve through official channels.

Ever since taking office, Obama has made a point of reading a cross-section of letters from concerned citizens which end up in the White House's mailbag, believing that it helps him stay in touch with everyday Americans.

Before going to bed each night, he tells staff to select 10 letters at random, from the thousands which are sent to him each day. Some are naturally unflattering – usually they are the ones addressed to "Dear Jackass", "Dear Moron", or "Dear Socialist"– but others give him valuable insight into the realities of life outside high office.

It isn't always a heart-warming process, though. "You start thinking about the fact that for every one person that wrote describing their story, there might be another hundred thousand going through the same thing," President Obama told Mr Saslow.

Presidential Aid

Herbert Hoover

During the Great Depression, the White House received thousands of letters from Americans in need of cash. In a typical letter, a Mississippi farmer asked for "money to make this year's crop". In another, a girl of 14 from Maine wrote that her "Papa is poor and sick" and needed help. Both received a sympathetic reply from the Oval Office.

 

Ronald Reagan

A sucker for a good begging letter, Reagan diligently replied to requests when he was an actor. "His advisers found this both extraordinary and frightening," said his biographer James B Sutherland. "They didn't want people taking advantage."

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