President Drops a Digit but Gets Help From a Homeowner

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008

FREEHOLD, N.J., March 28 -- Here's a tip: If you need a phone number, call information, not the president.

President Bush visited a credit counseling service here Friday to promote his administration's efforts to help homeowners crunched by the mortgage crisis. "I want my fellow citizens, if you're worried about your home, to call this number: 1-88-995-HOPE," he said. "Let me repeat that again: 1-88-995-HOPE."

The only trick? He was one "8" short. As the president shook hands with guests after his statement, Danny Cerchiaro, a homeowner from Iselin, N.J., who had gotten help restructuring his mortgage, whispered something in Bush's ear. The president promptly went back to the lectern. "Danny just told me I've got to get the number right," he said sheepishly. "1- 888-995-HOPE."

The slip came during a brief trip to the headquarters of Novadebt, a 17-year-old nonprofit organization that counsels more than 100,000 people in debt each year. While resisting Democratic calls for a government bailout, Bush wanted to remind Americans that his administration helped bring together a private-sector coalition of lenders, investors and counselors called the Hope Now Alliance to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

"There's some homeowners who have made responsible buying decisions and who could keep their homes with just a little help," Bush said.

It was not the first time, though, that the president got the number wrong. When he announced the program in December, he gave the first four digits as 1-800 instead of 1-888. That incorrect number he announced led callers to a Christian education academy near Dallas. Even though the White House quickly corrected the mistake, the academy ended up getting calls for days afterward.

This time at least no one will get calls by mistake. By dropping a digit, he simply gave an incomplete number.

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