Some cut where it hurts most

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I read a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January about the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) cutting its $6-million-a-year wheelchair program due to a decrease in donations and a poor return on its investments, both results of the poor economy. The MDA used to provide grants of up to $2,000 for wheelchairs. Now people like 27-year-old Joey Feltner, who called the MDA after his manual wheelchair was stolen recently, can't afford a replacement.

That the MDA is making cuts doesn't surprise me. Wheelchair providers are doing that, too. Take a look at the story "Last year's changes, this year's new norm" on page 27 or the NewsPoll on page 46. Both have to do with providers limiting their deliveries and service visits, and shrinking their geographic areas to reduce expenses.

But there's a big difference between what providers are doing and what the MDA is doing: While limiting deliveries and service visits may inconvenience a user like Feltner, eliminating a $2,000 grant leaves him in the lurch.

In fairness, the wheelchair program isn't the only program the MDA has cut. A spokesperson for the association told the newspaper that the MDA has also reduced spending on research by $4 million and laid off staff.

It doesn't appear, however, that the MDA has made any cuts to the salary of its CEO. The newspaper reports that Gerald Weinberg earned $313,215 in salary and benefits in 2007 and $409,063 in 2008. That's a $95,848 raise. That alone is enough for about 48 grants for wheelchairs.

I'm sure it was a tough decision for the MDA to cut the wheelchair program, one of its more visible initiatives, along with its Jerry Lewis-hosted telethons. And I'm sure Weinberg deserves a good chunk of change for the work he does for the MDA. A PR rep for the association told the newspaper: "Our CEO's compensation is appropriate for what he does and has done for over four decades (with the MDA). He helps create magic for the MDA every day, every year."

But in the larger scheme of things, what's worse: Weinberg going without a raise of nearly $100,000 or Feltner and 47 others going without wheelchairs? That shouldn't be a tough decision for the MDA, whose mantra is "Helping Jerry's Kids," to make.