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UNITED WAY CHIEF GETS THANK-YOU GIFT

The United Way of America's board members opened their personal checkbooks to give a $292,500 thank-you gift to departing President Elaine L. Chao for restoring accountability and trust in the organization.

The payment is equal to 18 months' salary for Chao, 42, who became United Way president in August 1992 in the wake of a national scandal involving the lavish spending of former president William Aramony, who was convicted of defrauding the organization and is now serving a prison term.The money is coming from seven or eight board members' personal accounts, not from donations or public contributions, United Way Chairwoman Paula Harper Bethea of Hilton Head, S.C., told The Washington Post.

Bethea said the payment was not a buyout or part of a severance package.

The money is meant to show appreciation for restoring fiscal accountability and trust in the organization, along with a strategic plan, Bethea said.

Chao announced last week that she will leave her $195,000-per-year job by Sept. 1, saying her work there is complete.