Forgetting the bottom line, accountants volunteer for Sandy-stricken businesses

BY SAM SPOKONY | As many await more information about forthcoming federal grants, small business owners impacted by Superstorm Sandy will now at least be getting some free help from accountants across the New York City area.

Last week the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants announced the start of a three-month volunteer program that will provide pro bono service to owners who need help with insurance claims, personal injury claims, measuring business interruption, economic damage calculations or business valuations, among other related matters.

“Service is at the core of our profession and a central tenet of our society,” said Gail M. Kinsella, C.P.A. president. Of the accountants group “I’m proud of members who are volunteering to connect business owners with resources and information to help them rebuild their livelihoods.”

The program includes over 100 C.P.A.’s, and is being run in partnership with the city’s Department of Small Business Services and its Economic Development Corporation — both major sources of post-Sandy business loans.

C.P.A. volunteers will provide on-call telephone counsel — and in some cases in-person — to businesses owners located within affected areas throughout the city.

There is certainly still a need for that service throughout Lower Manhattan, nearly two months after the storm, as many small businesses continue to struggle with both physical damage and lost income as a result of closing shop for long periods of time.

“Business owners are very committed to customers they serve, as well as the employees that rely on them,” said C.P.A. Paul Sinaly, whose firm, based at 28th St. and Fifth Ave., is getting involved in the volunteer effort. “But because of that, a lot of them aren’t looking into critical details involved in getting the money that’s being made available to them by city and federal agencies, like FEMA.”

Sinaly added that the application process for loans offered by S.B.S. to storm-affected small businesses — which are distributed in amounts of up to $25,000 — is actually not as complicated as many business owners generally think. A little help, he explained, can go a long way towards recovering in the storm’s aftermath.

“Impacted businesses are really missing an opportunity if they don’t avail themselves of these programs,” Sinaly said. “At this point, it’s up to owners to reach out to us if they need help working through the disaster, and I hope they do reach out.”

Lee Ferber, a C.P.A. and partner at the Murray Hill-based firm Gentry, Marcus, Stern & Lehrer, which is also supplying volunteers, noted that some owners may not even have truly felt the storm’s impact on their business until now.

“That seems especially prevalent in places like doctors’ offices, where all of a sudden you realize you’re not getting many patients, and you finally feel the effect of the storm reverberating through your business,” Ferber said. “And now, you need to take a look at what you’ve lost in that period of time, by comparing your finances and customer levels to last years totals, in order to get the funds needed to really recover.”

Bernadette Schopfer, another C.P.A. and the director of taxation at the volunteering firm Maier, Markey & Justice, which is based in White Plains (in Westchester County), explained that the sheer severity of post-Sandy economic damage has made the members of her firm willing to travel in order to provide help.

“We felt a need to reach out and get involved,” Schopfer said. “This isn’t about trying to get new work for the firm, it’s just an unconditional offering of our services, to try and mitigate the suffering.”

Small business owners who are interested in receiving these services can learn more by calling the S.B.S. Business Solution Center’s Lower Manhattan office at 212-618-8914.

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