IHRSA’s COVID-19 Federal Advocacy

The health and fitness industry was devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though Congress let the industry down by not passing direct targeted relief, all of the hard work has set the health and fitness industry on a track to being an advocacy powerhouse in the years to come.

Following the initial worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, state governments in the U.S. began placing restrictions on public gatherings, enforcing social distancing, and mandating businesses to close, including most of the health and fitness industry. When it became clear that Congress would begin work on a relief package, we worked with our D.C. lobbyists to send a letter to Congress outlining the massive economic struggles of the industry and pleading for support.

However, the various programs created by the federal government to support businesses during these unprecedented times were either underfunded or ill-suited to the health and fitness industry. This did not deter health and fitness advocates across the country. The industry came together like it never has before and worked to contact each and every member of Congress to make them aware of the economic disaster facing the health and fitness industry.

By capitalizing on the hard work our industry demonstrated throughout 2020, the first health and fitness industry-specific relief bill was filed in the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall of 2020—the Health & Fitness Recovery Act (HFRA).

The HFRA struggled to gain footing in D.C. due to many federal officials focused on the upcoming election. We worked with Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA)—our HFRA champions and sponsors—and a diverse group of stakeholder organizations from across the fitness industry to redraft, redesign, and rebrand the HFRA as the GYMS Act.

GYMS Act Federal Page Column Width

On February 5, 2021, U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) filed the Gym Mitigation and Survival (GYMS) Act (H.R. 890) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacting health and fitness facilities around the country. Then, on May 13, 2021, U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) filed the Senate version of the GYMS Act (S. 1613). Most of Congress's previous economic relief packages have either left out or not really helped the fitness industry.

The GYMS Act brought together businesses that previously only saw each other as competition. This bill was a singular vehicle and message that the entire industry and a coalition of organizations could use as we lobbied for relief.

Through the dogged commitment of many individuals in the health and fitness industry, we were able to secure 164 House cosponsors and 30 Senate cosponsors for the GYMS Act. While direct financial relief for the health and fitness industry was popular in Congress—and was included in a business relief package proposed by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)—the effort could not overcome a bloc of strong resistance to additional COVID-related spending.

We look forward to building on the outstanding advocacy efforts that the health and fitness industry has demonstrated and committed to over the last few years. Together, we’ve created a foundation of lobbying and grassroots outreach that will support the industry’s trajectory toward becoming a true advocacy powerhouse.

One-click Campaign Participation Shows Industry’s Reach

Our most valuable tool in advocating for relief for the health and fitness industry is the individuals that make up the industry. Elected officials ultimately want to hear from their constituents because, at the end of the day, their constituents are the people that put elected officials in power.

Throughout our advocacy efforts, we used one-click campaigns which allow individuals in the health and fitness industry across the country to write to their elected officials and share a letter in support of the industry in almost no time at all.

These grassroots efforts are ultimately a numbers game, it takes a lot of individuals sharing the same message to break through. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry came together like never before to send letters to Congress asking for relief.

In the month of March 2020 alone, nearly 42,000 fitness professionals and enthusiasts sent over 126,000 letters to their members of Congress highlighting the desperate need for relief. In total, over 92,000 individuals have sent nearly 250,000 letters to their members of Congress advocating for direct relief for the health and fitness industry.

Advocating Today for a Better Tomorrow

While the continued failure of Congress to pass direct targeted relief to the health and fitness industry is incredibly disappointing, the hard work the industry has put forth is certainly not in vain. Through all of our advocacy efforts the health and fitness industry has put in the leg work to get a seat at the table for the years to come.

Just because we finally have a seat at the table does not mean that we can rest. In fact, now is the time to double down in our advocacy efforts. IHRSA and its U.S. advocacy arm, the National Health and Fitness Alliance, are launching two initiatives to continue development on the federal advocacy stage:

  1. Project 435


The first of these initiatives, Project 435, aims to establish at least one engaged health and fitness professional in each of the 435 congressional districts across the country. Since members of Congress are more strongly influenced by individuals and businesses in their own districts, Project 435 seeks to create an individual connection to each member of Congress to prepare us for future advocacy efforts.

Secondly, we relaunched the IHRSA PAC in order to provide the health and fitness industry with the financial backing that we need to help our advocacy efforts make a real impact in Washington, D.C.

All of the industry’s tireless efforts thus far have set us up to become a true advocacy powerhouse, but the work is not done yet