Business owner disputes requirement to file fictitious name in order to qualify for grant

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OKEECHOBEE — Sandra Pearce, owner of Sandra Pearce Photography, appeared before the Okeechobee County commissioners at their Sept. 17 meeting to dispute the requirement for a home-based business to file a fictitious name request with the Florida Department of State.

At the Aug. 20 commission meeting, Pearce had petitioned the county to allow home-based businesses to apply for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant funding available to “brick and mortar” businesses. The commissioners agreed to expand the grant program to home-based businesses, nonprofit organizations and restaurant servers who lost income due to the state response to the pandemic.

Pearce said she first submitted a grant application on Aug. 21, then on Aug, 27 received an email notification the application form had been revised. She said she resubmitted an application on Aug. 30.

On Sept. 6, she said, she received an email that asked her to resubmit three items which she had already included as well as proof her business had registered a fictitious name or DBA (doing business as) with the state.

Pearce said she checked with an attorney and with the state office in Tallahassee. “For sole proprietors, if your business name is a combination of your full legal name and a description of your business, you don’t need a DBA,” she said.

“When I applied for my license and sales tax number in 1995, I was told I didn’t need one, my business being Sandra Pearce Photography, and Sandra Pearce being my legal name,” she said.

“I got in touch with fictitious names department in Tallahassee. I was told I did not need to purchase one,” she continued.

She said filing for a fictitious name would cost her $80 for the state filing fee plus the legal advertisement that goes in the newspaper’s print edition as well as online on the newspaper’s website and in the Florida Press Association data base.

“Here I am requesting money and I am asked to pay more money,” she said.

Pearce said she also wanted to know why the grant applications for home-based businesses were different from the applications for other businesses. Home-based businesses are required to provide more profit and loss information, she said.

“The original application you filled out, home-based businesses were not approved by this board, so that application was null and void,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs.

He said the Clerk of Court has told county the fictitious name is required.

“Your debate is with the Clerk of Court and not this board,” said Burroughs. “She is following the guidelines from the State of Florida,” he explained. “If she is audited and it is not there, she is going to get gigged.”

“This board is not going to challenge the Clerk of Court because she is following the guidelines from the State of Florida,” he continued.

Burroughs said they asked for additional information from home-based businesses so they can determine whether the person was in business at the time the pandemic started and the home business was impacted by the state’s response to the pandemic.

“If you look at the first application, home-based businesses were not on it,” he said. “We put in home-based businesses, nonprofits and restaurant servers. “Yes, the application has changed due to the guidance the board has provided,” said Burroughs.

“You are not alone,” he added. “A number of people have had to go get fictitious names.” He said once she obtains the fictitious name, the county will process her application, which would qualify for a grant of $5,000.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper asked why filing for a fictitious name was a problem. “What’s the difference?” he asked.

She said the difference is $80. Some people are paying even more, she added. “There have been attorneys who are filing it for people, who are also charging people just to fill it out,” she continued. Those people are paying attorney fees in addition to the $50 filing fee and $35 advertising charge.

Okeechobee County Attorney Wade Vose said the statute says anytime you are doing business under anything except the person’s legal name, filing a fictitious name is a requirement. He said the word “photography” is not part of her legal name.

“Remember these dollars came from the federal government to us,” said County Administrator Robbie Chartier. She said every legal box must be checked off, or the federal government could require the county to pay the money back.

The U.S. Treasury has also changed the guidelines, said Burroughs.

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