DETROIT – Jennifer Cline said having President Barack Obama think enough about her family's struggles to send a handwritten letter promising "things will keep getting better" was priceless — until she was offered $7,000 for the handwritten note.
That's when the 28-year-old mother of 2- and 9-year-old boys from southern Michigan, who has been unemployed since losing her job as a pharmacy technician in 2007, decided selling the memento to a persistent autograph collector was a good way to put a dent in her family's growing pile of bills.
"I needed to do what's best for my family," she said Tuesday, adding that she and her 30-year-old husband, Jason, remain staunch Obama supporters. "And this was best for my family."
The couple plans to use about $3,000 to pay down mounting bills, many of which are related to two forms of skin cancer that Jennifer has battled into remission. The remaining money will be used as part of a down payment on a future home.
Cline said it took her about five minutes to write the three-page letter last year detailing on notebook paper how her family was faring despite job losses and her ongoing medical battles. She wrote, "I don't have a job now. But I do know people are getting them."
Cline also detailed progress: She returned to college, her tuition was covered by a Pell Grant and her unemployment benefits were extended.
Obama's signed, two-line handwritten response on White House stationery arrived in Cline's mailbox in January, was addressed to "Jennifer" and read: "Thanks for the very kind and inspiring letter. I know times are tough, but knowing there are folks out there like you and your husband give me confidence that things will keep getting better.'"
But tough times remain for the couple, which married less than a year ago. Both filed separately for bankruptcy last year, Jennifer's unemployment benefits expired, and monthly premiums for the family's private health insurance remain steep because of her preexisting condition.
Cline said the collector first contacted her in April, and each subsequent correspondence delivered a higher offer. When it reached $7,000 about a month ago, she said the answer seemed obvious for the family of four who rents a duplex in Monroe, about 35 miles south-southwest of Detroit, and still faces about $6,000 in unpaid medical bills.
"It was either get a job or sell the letter," said Cline, a community college student who said she has been on nearly 50 interviews since losing her job and filled out hundreds of applications. "Trouble is, it's been impossible to find a job."
She said the money is a hedge against Jason's decreased winter work hours.
Cline said the couple drove to New York on Saturday to deliver the letter to the collector who hopes it will fetch $18,000, and in return received a cashier's check for $7,000.
"My husband had to peel the letter out of hand," Cline said. "I cried half the way there and half the way home."
She said selling the keepsake was an "enormous decision," but she made a single copy and has no regrets.
"For one minute out his day, the president read my letter and thought about me. That's never happened to me. ... If I ever saw him, I would say that I'm sorry ... but thanks to him sending the letter, we may have a down payment on a home — and that's the best thing for my family."