Accounting firms and various state boards from around the country are reaching out to both the victims of Hurricane Katrina and displaced accountants who need a new home and a place to work.The storm, which ravaged scores of Gulf Coast communities and flooded the city of New Orleans, has galvanized the profession to help displaced colleagues and homeless residents hoping for a new start after losing everything in the storm.
"We've gotten e-mail from CPAs all over the country," said Susan Harris, executive director of the Mississippi Board of Accountancy. The Mississippi board is standing by, ready to help any of its licensed accountants who want to start work in a new state.
"They're in crisis mode right now, but if CPAs have to relocate to another state, we can assist them with other boards. We can assist in transferring a license and getting a reciprocal license," said Harris.
The Texas State Board is helping CPAs reduce paperwork and, in many cases, is waiving fees and removing notification rules so that those who are working in Texas or working for Texas clients as a result of Hurricane Katrina can get about their work as expeditiously as possible. Information about the options available through the TSBPA is available on the board's Web site, at www.tsbpa.state.tx.us/hurricaneinfo.htm.
The Mississippi Society of CPAs is collecting names of firms that have indicated an interest in hiring displaced CPAs, as is the Louisiana state board.
A critical place to look for assistance or to offer help is the AICPA's PCPS Firm Volunteer Center, at http://pcps.aicpa.org/community/hurricane+katrina.htm. This link on the AICPA Web site provides a clearinghouse where individual accountants and firms can offer the following types of assistance:
* Office space for displaced accountants.
* Temporary housing for CPAs and their families.
* Office supplies and equipment.
* Tech support, such as assistance in getting up and running again, as well as help with recovering and rebuilding data.
* Hosting and software and assistance in getting back online, access to e-mail and access to software applications.
* Temporary employment for both professional and administrative staff. At this time, it is expected that offers of employment are for temporary positions; however, some firms are offering permanent employment now.
* Assistance with record reconstruction, forensics, and business interruption loss.
* Business continuity and disaster recovery assistance and consultation.
* Assistance in reaching clients.
* Assistance with filings and meeting critical due dates.
Jim Metzler, vice president of small firm interests at the AICPA, is heading up the team that assembled the Web site and is overseeing its progress.
"We've had a tremendous outpouring of firms and members trying to help out any way they can - it's moving to see," said Metzler. "We've provided the mechanism for firms to help other firms."
The AICPA firm-to-firm portal can be utilized for future unforeseen events, he added.
"This is definitely a plug-and-go," said Metzler. "I don't know why we couldn't use this for disaster readiness in the future." He anticipated a continuation of firms offering to help firms, adding their information to the site, even in calmer times.
You don't have to be an AICPA member to access the site, nor do you have to be a member to offer assistance. At press time, more than 150 firms had indicated an availability of jobs and other assistance on the institute site.
Alegria & Co., based in Yakima, Wash., is one of many firms outside the affected region that has opened its doors to a displaced hurricane victim.
Matt Anderton, a principal with the firm, described the situation: "Did we have a particular vacancy? No, we don't. But could we stretch and make it work? Yeah, we definitely can."
Included with many of the job offers are offers to help with transferring professional licenses, relocating costs, moving families, and so on.
"Whatever it takes, depending on what their situation is," said Anderton.
Another firm that has decided to offer employment to displaced CPAs is Swink, Fiehler & Co., located outside St. Louis. "We are willing to help them with relocation to the area, and a sign-on bonus to try to get them up and running again," said Michael Cooper, director of information technology.
"We're willing to go above and beyond what we normally would. We tried to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes," explained Cooper. "Small to medium-sized firms may not make it at all. Not only are they going to have the struggle of rebuilding their own businesses, but their client base may never reappear."
Individual CPAs help, too
Richard Forrest, CPA, JD and a partner with Forrest & Kelley, in Houston, wasn't content to watch the television coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Forrest happens to own a helicopter, so he took his helicopter and his pilot's license and joined the rescue effort in and around New Orleans.
He and the other volunteers who were helping with search and rescue faced an unusual situation. "All of the radar and other normal FAA communications were out of service," said Forrest. "Whatever you heard about the government not being there, that just isn't so. There were so many helicopters in the air - Blackhawk, Chinook, Seahawk, the Big C4, C5 transport airplanes coming and going, the orange-and-white Coast Guard rescue helicopters. They were like humming bees, moving from house to house."
Forrest flew several people out of the flooded areas, flew rescue people and equipment into the areas, and did survey work, as well.
Sara Roberts, CPA and managing partner of Dunn, Roberts & Co., in Lake Charles, La., did not have a helicopter, but she owns a boat. She and her husband drove to devastated areas in New Orleans with their boat to help with the rescue effort.
Meanwhile, Wendy Kurz, a CPA with Forrest & Kelley, has been "adopting" families that were evacuated to Houston, helping them purchase clothing and bus tickets to other parts of the country where they have relatives. Her first project was a family of six. "They were still wearing the clothes they had on [when they were evacuated]. I took them to Wal-Mart and bought them some shoes and clothes. I started calling around to friends, and raised enough money for tickets for the six people to go to Montgomery, Ala., where the mother had relatives. It turned out the woman's sister-in-law had raised money in Montgomery to pay for the bus tickets, so I still had this money that I had raised."
With the donated money, Kurz is adopting another family. This time she arranged for a family of 23 to get to Greensboro, N.C. She received additional donations from clients and colleagues. "I'm adopting one family at a time," said Kurz. "Now I'm on my third family."
An overwhelming response among those who are donating to Katrina victims seems to be that people are willing to forego the charitable tax deduction they would get by donating to a recognized charity, and instead want to donate money and personal items directly to individuals and families. Lynn Britt, a Ft. Lauderdale-based CPA, has seen the same type of response.
Britt has helped organize a group of Florida CPAs who are offering to provide jobs for, and help with the relocation of, evacuees. Her group has also collected personal items that they are sending to displaced CPAs and staff members in the hurricane zone. "I have located two CPAs and staff who have lost their entire home," said Britt. "We're sending help for them personally, realizing we get no charitable donation deduction, but we don't care."
Britt planned to use the AICPA's online site to locate CPAs who need assistance and match them with Florida CPAs who need staff. "I would suggest that anyone who has a need should access us through the AICPA Web site," said Britt. "It comes down to just do something, do what you can."
Billy Atkinson, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers's Houston office, helped welcome the New Orleans CPAs who relocated to Houston. "We are providing them with housing, and all out-of-pocket costs associated with their and their immediate families' situations. We're trying to treat these people as we would want to be treated in their period of displacement," said Atkinson. "There's a whole list of things that we've done to get them housed, and get their personal needs met; we've gotten all of their children in schools."
PwC established its own charity for employees to contribute, and the firm provides matching contributions. Many of those recent contributions have been earmarked for the firm's displaced personnel.
"It's been a very heartfelt response from our people," said Atkinson. "I'm very proud of them. That doesn't even speak to the countless contributions of food and clothing that our people donated to the local evacuees."
Bill Balhoff, CPA, CFE and director of Postlewaite & Netterville, a southern-Louisiana-based accounting firm, has been spending part of each day fielding offers of assistance from all over the country.
As former chair of the AICPA's PCPS unit, Balhoff still had plenty of contacts, many of whom came forward, asking how they could help. "The outpouring from CPAs has been just unbelievable," said Balhoff, describing typical e-mail messages that offer temporary employment for displaced accountants and administrative staff, including providing help with transportation and housing.
"In national media, what you see is a lot of the negative things," said Balhoff. "What you're not seeing is the incredible outpouring." Balhoff lives in Baton Rouge, where, he said, "Everybody has people living in their homes, some of them have people they've not met before. It's really incredible."
Kernion Schafer, president and chief executive of the Schafer Group Ltd., a Metairie, La.-based CPA firm, is a hurricane victim himself who's trying to help his staff and maintain contact with clients while living in a trailer with five others who are also displaced.
While working to clean out his home that was ravaged by floodwaters ("I had to gut my whole first floor"), Schafer has managed to locate all of his 20 employees and start getting his business back together. With the help of friends at Louisiana CPA firm Broussard, Poché, Lewis & Breaux, who made office space and staff available to him, Schafer has been able to respond to client calls. In addition, Schafer is freeing up some auxiliary office space that he owns for a displaced employee to live in temporarily.
"The moment you feel sorry for yourself, you have got to look around," said Schafer. "It's surreal."
Register or login for access to this item and much more
All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.
Community members receive:
- All recent and archived articles
- Conference offers and updates
- A full menu of enewsletter options
- Web seminars, white papers, ebooks
Already have an account? Log In
Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access