WASHINGTON -- Got problems? Tell Barack Obama. He can help. He might even give you money.
On more than one occasion, the president has cut personal checks to struggling Americans who've written to the White House, according to an excerpt from a new book by Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow about the ten letters the president reads every day.
"It's not something I should advertise, but it has happened," the president told Saslow.
How many times has President Obama intervened on someone's behalf, and with what kind of problems does he help? Mortgage payments? Medical bills? And when he wants to help someone out with a personal check, how does it work? Does he send a check signed "Barack Obama" directly to the individual in need, or does he send the money to a bank or company on the person's behalf? Do people even know when Obama has helped them out, or does the help arrive anonymously through a lawyer?
The White House declined to answer any questions about the practice.
HuffPost readers: Received help from the president after sending him a letter? Tell us about it -- email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your phone number if you're willing to do an interview.
It's long been known that the president occasionally responds to the people who write him. Several folks who've heard back from Obama have even put the correspondence up for sale. NBC reported in June, for instance, that a single mom from Hobart, Ind. hoped to stave off eviction by selling an Obama letter for thousands of dollars. And a man who'd received a note from the president in response to an angry letter about bank bonuses put the letter up for auction in March.
It seems like Obama views writing a check or making a phone call on a correspondent's behalf as a way for him to alleviate the powerlessness he sometimes feels when reading his mail from regular people.
"Some of these letters you read and you say, 'Gosh, I really want to help this person, and I may not have the tools to help them right now,'" the president told Saslow. "And then 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. So there are times when I'm reading the letters and I feel pained that I can't do more, faster, to make a difference in their lives."
Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.