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    IHRSA’s Lobbying for the Fitness Industry Continues

    Since March, IHRSA has been fighting an uphill battle to get health clubs relief and show how critical they are to public health. Here’s an update of our lobbying efforts through August.

    Although health and fitness clubs are open—to some degree—in every state, things are still bad for the fitness industry. Restrictions, maximum capacities, member cancellations, and cleaning protocols, for example, are making it tough for many businesses to stay afloat. While you’ve all been busy on the front line, we’re also fighting for your survival. Here’s an extensive review of everything we’re doing.

    Over the past six months, IHRSA has dedicated countless hours, manpower, and resources to lobbying for relief for the fitness industry. From the curation of resources to calls with industry leaders and lobbyists, sending letters to governors to grassroots campaigns—and everything in between—we’re working diligently to prove how vital clubs are.

    For more information on IHRSA’s lobbying actions, IHRSA’s Coronavirus Action Center includes an interactive timeline of industry efforts and events since the first clubs were mandated to close. Additionally, this timeline details IHRSA’s early lobbying efforts and the more recent July lobbying efforts.

    Now, onto our lobbying recap for the month of August.

    Federal

    We aren’t seeing all that much movement for an economic relief package—one that Congress has been debating since the beginning of the summer. IHRSA will continue to lobby for the industry and provide updates as more information becomes available.

    While nothing is certain in Washington, D.C., these days, we are operating under the assumption that Congress will pass a fourth COVID-19 relief bill in September. Therefore, we are doing all we can to ensure the industry is well-positioned in that event.

    At this time, the focus of our efforts are:

    • A continued push for PR and media coverage in Washington, D.C., as well as the media markets of key Senate members.
    • Direct lobbying to influential Congressional and Senate committee members, such as the Senate and House Small Business Committees, Senate Committee on Finance, and the House Committee on Ways and Means.
    • Boosting support for the RESTART Loan Act by actively recruiting co-sponsors and promoting inclusion of the measure in the next relief bill.

    State

    While August did not bring the expected and much needed federal relief the industry seeks, the closing weeks of August and first week of September did see a long overdue thawing at the state level as all the previously unopened states finally restored fitness to their citizens.

    1. Arizona: Following a court ruling, beginning August 10, clubs were able to apply for reopening with state approval. Reopening approval required clubs to submit an application providing the safety protocols clubs were willing to agree to. The government will compare these applications with the level of community spread in the area to decide whether clubs can reopen. This has resulted in a slower reopening process in Arizona.
    2. Washington: Most counties in Washington were approved to move into Phase 2 or 3, which allows clubs to operate indoors. Chelan, Douglas, Benton, Franklin, and Yakima counties are still in a modified Phase 1, which does not allow for indoor fitness.
    3. New York: After months of lobbying by multiple groups, personal appeals, and a lawsuit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally reopened clubs in New York state as of August 24, (September 2 for New York City).
    4. New Jersey, North Carolina, and Michigan: About a week after New York announced club reopening, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Michigan also announced clubs would be reopening in September. As in New York, there were tireless efforts by many clubs and alliances, including legislative hearings, countless meetings with the governors and their staff, and press interviews.
    5. California: Though certain counties have been allowed to open, California is now our largest concern as the governor’s phases are severely restrictive to clubs. This is our September battle.

    IHRSA has been holding State Leadership meetings every two weeks with State Alliance Leaders and Industry Leadership Council members. The collaboration and sharing of best practices has been helpful to all involved short-term. Long-term, strong alliances at the state level will help the industry fare better with state legislative actions.

    Washington, D.C., is officially quiet for another week with the focus on the Republican Convention. IHRSA continues to connect club operators with their key members of Congress to make the case for industry relief.

    As we all know, it is important to change the narrative in the media around the essential nature of physical activity, the importance of clubs, and the need for relief for the industry. Because of the stillness in D.C., we switched our focus to share a PR & Image of the Industry update.

    Advocacy and Image of the Industry Updates

    IHRSA launched a new way to update the fitness industry on advocacy and Image of the Industry PR efforts. From the IHRSA News Desk is now being sent once a week to those interested.

    Wise Words from Medical Experts

    In August, IHRSA launched a series of articles with quotes from medical, science, and public health professionals on why exercise is essential and exercising in clubs with risk mitigation is safe.

    Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions

    IHRSA also released a 3-page infographic filled with content, data, and stats to dispel the negative health club misconceptions proliferating in the news. While we're getting the data out far and wide, our hope is that clubs use this with their local media and communities.

    Letter to 60 Million Members

    During the week of August 17, the entire industry was invited to send a version of the same “pro-health club” letter to their membership. The goal was to garner attention for the plight of health clubs with local media. This report on O2 Fitness shows it worked in North Carolina (one of the last states allowed to open.)

    Well-Placed Op-Ed

    On Saturday, August 22, the New York Daily News included the op-ed, An exercise in futility: A refusal to let gyms open will devastate thousands of workers. The New York placement is important to get the attention of the U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and his staff.

    With the Democratic National Convention taking place this week, D.C. has been relatively quiet. Behind the scenes, it is believed that the Senate does not have the votes to initiate the next COVID-19 relief bill. Anticipating the possibility that a relief measure could be part of the continuing resolution to fund the government in September, we have pivoted our lobbying efforts to cover key committees and leaders in the House.

    • The fight over funding for the U.S. Postal Service could bring the House, Senate, and White House back to the bargaining table. The House is expected to pass a USPS funding bill on August 22, and the Senate is formulating a response. There is cautious optimism that this could help get broader COVID-19 relief talks back on track.
    • IHRSA had calls with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). We are arranging a call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and other key targets for the week of August 24.

    Schumer has been vocal during negotiations about including the RESTART Act in any relief bill. House leadership is receiving similar urging. This is good news that principals who are responsible for negotiating an agreement are interested in this relief program.

    IHRSA put together a letter of support for the RESTART Act with hundreds of signatures from CEO’s of small, mid-sized, and large businesses from across the country at HelpSmallBusinessesNow.com.

    In D.C., President Trump signed executive orders seeking to address unemployment insurance and payroll taxes. Substantive talks around a new COVID-19 relief bill have not resumed and senators have left Washington, D.C., subject to recall to vote if a bill should come together. If a COVID-19 relief bill is to be put together prior to the election, September appears to be the most likely time, and perhaps the last real chance at seeing a bill come together before the November election.

    At this time, we do not believe a prospective relief bill in September will include either the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act or Business Interruption Insurance (Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s bill). However, we continue to support both of these measures for potential inclusion in an end of year package.

    • We held discussions to inform the industry on federal activity like the RESTART Act.
    • IHRSA provided state updates like the—almost—win in Arizona and our official reply to Gov. Cuomo in New York.
    • Continued collecting information for existing state alliances to ensure every State Alliance is invited to participate in IHRSA’s State Leadership calls.
    • We provided a recap of PR efforts in D.C., and positive industry PR for clubs to share to promote that gyms are safe and not contributing to the spread.

    To promote the safety of health clubs, share any or all of the following press releases and articles with your community—and feel free to make them your own!

    IHRSA is doing all we can on the lobbying front, but it’s time to talk about the industry’s Public Relations battle, both the immediate issues and moving forward.

    Since the start of the crisis, our three overarching industry PR messages have been

    1. Clubs and exercise are essential,
    2. Clubs are safe, and
    3. Clubs are hurting.

    While the first two are for the broader public, the “clubs are hurting” message is meant for Congress. Earlier this week, IHRSA Board Member Chris Craytor spoke to FOX Business about the potential layoffs coming to our industry if there’s no relief.

    Regarding the messages of safety and essentialism, IHRSA is focusing attention on how safe clubs are through providing information for clubs so that you can make the best, most informed decisions for your business, staff, and members.

    We use the following measures to prove that clubs are safe:

    Author avatar

    Helen Durkin @HADIHRSA

    Helen Durkin, JD, is the Executive Vice President of Public Policy for IHRSA. She is a champion of the health club industry and a committed advocate for physical activity, primary prevention, and public policies that promote wellness because it will take more than personal responsibility to get the world active. Helen lives to ski, dreams of knitting nirvana, is a mom, wife and springer spaniel owner.