By Carrie Wilkins
In my job as a CPA, February through mid-April is tax season, which means long hours at work forcing me to squeeze the rest of life into the schedule as time allowed. My husband and daughter are prepared for not seeing much of me this time of year. The same goes for the families of my co-workers.
By early March, however, I knew this was not going to be a time of business as usual. The coronavirus arrived, became a pandemic and I quickly realized that the coronavirus would have a substantial impact on life in Madison. Our firm already had the technology to telecommute if needed. On March 12 we held a staff meeting to make sure everyone knew how to login from home should the need arise. At this point, there was no decision by the federal government to extend the tax deadline so we pressed on. On March 16, as the number of infected people grew, we decided to close our doors to the public, and encouraged our staff to work from home. That was a difficult decision. We didn’t want to overreact, but we certainly wanted to keep everyone at the office and our clients as safe as possible. Our profession is considered essential so we were allowed to continue to operate.
There were so many questions and uncertainties. How long would this last? What if there’s a total shut down? How long could we make payroll and still keep the lights on? How are we going to financially survive this?
These were questions that all business owners were asking and losing sleep over at night. Madison is very representative of towns across this country. Small business is the heart of the U.S. economy and employs over half of the nation’s private workforce. Whether the small business is a farm, restaurant or store, the owner deeply cares about its’ employees and without revenue coming in the door or substantial reserves to draw from there is no money to pay employees or other bills.
The tax deadline was extended to July 15 and Congress signed the CARES Act into law on March 27. Once this happened, it was game on. Work at the office quickly shifted from preparation of tax returns to assisting businesses in applying for the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) Loan. The federal government funded the PPP loan program with a limited amount of money so businesses rushed to fill out the application and get the necessary information to their banker. The loan program provided businesses an opportunity to obtain funding and if 75 percent of the money is used on payroll for its employees, the loan will be forgiven. The CARES Act also extended unemployment benefits to self-employed individuals. There have been so many changes in a short period of time. Everyone at the office has worked hard to stay on top of the changes so we could best assist our clients. The local banks in Madison really stepped up to the plate to assist businesses to obtain funding.
This is my twenty-first tax season as an accountant and I can’t remember being so mentally exhausted.
On the home front, handling the unexpected and uncertainties have been equally as challenging. My husband owns his own business as well and it is also on the essential list so we have both been able to operate to some degree. Meanwhile, our daughter a junior in high school, has been at home with online learning. Teenagers, it appears, don’t shelter in place well, especially when it seems like she’s the only one in the household who is sheltering in place. Just as spring sports were getting under way, school activities came to a screeching halt. Everything canceled, no traveling for spring break, no youth group, no prom and no going over to friends’ houses. As the first few weeks passed we came to the realization that there would be no returning to in-person school. There have been lots of tears shed over disappointments and heartbreak for her senior friends who are missing out on all the end of year activities. She also has lots of concerns that this will repeat next year when it is her senior year.
Eight years ago, our family experienced another time of upheaval when our son died suddenly in an accident. It was unexpected, unimaginable and we were uncertain how we would face the days ahead. We took life one day at a time, leaned on the support of our family, friends and church and, most importantly, the strength and grace from God. Living through that experience has been difficult but there so many life lessons my family learned. We are stronger now because of our experience.
In many ways, life since COVID-19 has much of the same feel of unexpectedness and uncertainty. Life often does not turn out as we expected and, while we cannot control or change the circumstances, we can control how we will meet each day.
In times of difficulty over the years I have spoken the serenity prayer, which is attributed to the 20th Century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It goes: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Living one day at a time. Enjoying one moment at a time.
That is our calling at this time.