Earlier this week, Senate Republicans formally filed their long-awaited latest version of a “Phase 4” economic relief package, titled the “Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act”. The bill contains many of the key legislative priorities that we were working to include, but much work is still needed and there will be lengthy and difficult negotiations on the legislation before a final version is passed. That said, the original version as filed by Senate leadership provides a flat $200 weekly unemployment premium (down from $600/week); expands both the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and creates a new refundable payroll tax credit of 50% of an employer’s qualified employee protection expenses (such items as PPE, cleaning supplies, COVID employee testing and the like). In addition, the initial draft commits another $190 billion to support a second draw on the Paycheck Protection Program with eligibility limited to businesses with less than 300 employees that can demonstrate a gross revenue drop of 50%. It also calls for a simplified forgiveness process on smaller loans and expands the list of forgivable expenses to include supplier costs, work protection and covered operations expenditures. Finally, the bill provides targeted temporary liability protections against personal injury claims related to actual or alleged COVID-19 exposure for employers making “reasonable” efforts to follow public health guidelines. The onus for proving a lack of “reasonable efforts” to comply rests with the plaintiffs.  Furthermore, it would create a one-year statute of limitations for VOCID liability claims and preempts state laws that impose liability for exposure-based claims on broader grounds. Aside from our primary interests, the legislation also provides another round of stimulus checks for qualified Americans, more than $100 billion for reopening schools and colleges along with provisions allowing for flexibility regarding state and local aid. For more information on the current proposal – as well as specific amendments needed as the Coalition of Franchisee Associations is advocating, see this CFA Update. We will have more information coming soon.