Priscilla Perkins has never seen a job helping people she wanted to avoid. After years of raising money for transitional housing, family services and job placement at Lighthouse of Oakland County north of Detroit, and then doing the same for children and women’s health initiatives at Beaumont Hospital (Now Spectrum Health), she’s found a new path that has hit home for her. Literally.
Growing up in Louisiana and attending LSU, she was shocked one day to find that her father was making little money, but because of the tax changes implemented in the 80s, which favored higher-income people, he hadn’t adjusted. “I did my Dad’s taxes then. He was only making between $35,000 and $37,000 and I was stunned,” she told Blac Finance. “He was not only paying taxes but was being charged $75 to $100 to prepare them. I thought, wait a minute, he’s putting two kids through college and he owes money? I was highly offended by that.”
A little over a year ago, Perkins took the helm of the Accounting Aid Society (AAS) in Detroit as its President and CEO. “Taking that role made me happy to be in a space in a community I care deeply about to help the kind of people I know,” she said. “The people we work with want to pay their taxes and work and get a piece of the American dream, and a have a little bit of retirement money.” In its 50-year history, the Detroit AAS has helped Southeast Michigan residents receive $455 million in refunds and credits. This year they expect to help clients with 16,000 tax returns.
In addition to offering free tax preparation services for people earning under $57,000 a year, the Accounting Aid Society also hosts a low-income tax clinic and what they refer to as an accounting aid academy. The academy teaches low-income earners with small businesses how to file quarterly taxes and use necessary financial tools like QuickBooks.
Although Perkins says the organization’s relationship with the IRS is good, one of the more significant challenges is the government agency’s propensity to go after those using the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
“We found it’s really easy to make mistakes in using the EITC in your tax filings, and it’s an easy target for IRS auditors. Much easier than going after an LLC.,” Perkins said. “It’s challenging because a lot of people feel targeted and victimized by the system. I don’t want to make the IRS the bad guy here because if you file and file correctly, you’ll be okay. It’s really about helping the people who are most vulnerable.”
She says that most of the non-profit’s clients are seniors, many of whom employ English as their second language.
Perkins’ trail to her role at AAS was not without tears. During her negotiations for the job, her Father, who inspired her passion for the work, died suddenly at age 84. “I almost didn’t take the job, but he would have wanted me to do this and not mope around (after he died). He’s not of that generation that showed a lot of emotion, but I think he’d be proud of me.”