Two Bills in Congress Could Change the Fitness Industry for the Better

    The fitness industry is rallying together in support of two bipartisan bills that could provide relief and recovery for American gyms.

    Businesses—including gyms—have reopened in all 50 states, and a few local governments have rolled back mandates enough to allow for mask-free spaces. So, that's that, crisis over, we can finally return to normal, right?

    Unfortunately, no, not yet. But, I promise this article won't be all doom and gloom because within the devastation lies the seeds to rebuild a stronger, healthier, and more diverse industry.

    If gyms have reopened, what's the problem?

    The government-mandated closures during the pandemic took an enormous toll on gyms across the U.S. Fitness facilities nationwide were among the first businesses ordered to close and the last allowed to reopen.

    When they finally could reopen, gyms had to operate under some of the most restrictive guidelines, resulting in economic devastation for the facilities and their workers.

    One out of every five fitness facilities has closed permanently as of December 31, 2020, and tens of thousands more are at risk. The fitness industry as a whole lost 58 percent of annual revenue—amounting to $20.4 billion in 2020 alone–and 1.4 million fitness industry employees lost their jobs.

    The fitness industry will feel the effects of COVID-19 for a long time. On top of the losses already suffered, the work health clubs will need to do to bring members back is like opening a new facility all over again.

    There's Hope for the Fitness Industry: Relief and Recovery

    One positive effect of the pandemic is that it brought our industry together in a way it has never been before. With our newfound united voice, we can set the industry back on its feet and running toward the growth we all enjoyed in 2019 and before.

    There is a serious need for relief and recovery from the effects of COVID. For the fitness industry, relief and recovery starts with you and two bipartisan bills currently in Congress. I'm talking about the GYMS Act (HR 890/S. 1613) and PHIT Act (HR 3109/ S. 844).

    The GYMS Act Means Relief for Gyms, Health Clubs, and the Fitness Industry

    The GYMS Act is the fitness industry-specific bill that will get the nearly 3.2 million fitness professionals in the U.S. on our feet again. This bill is specifically designed to help keep local gyms, clubs, and studios in business and serving their communities.

    The GYMS Act will create a $30 billion fund to provide grants to affected businesses in the health and fitness industry. Two of the most common questions about the GYMS Act include:

    1. How would the grants work?

    2. And what would the grants cover?

    How would the GYMS Act grants work?

    Qualifying businesses would be eligible to receive grants capped at 45% of the facility's 2019 revenue—or $20 million—whichever is less. Health and fitness businesses considered severely impacted—meaning revenues of only 33% or less in the most recent quarter compared to 2019—would be eligible for a supplemental grant of up to 25% of their initial grant amount.

    What would the grants in the GYMS Act cover?

    The six main expenses the grant would cover include:

    1. payroll costs,

    2. rent or mortgage payments, including interest,

    3. utilities,

    4. interest on debt accrued before February 15, 2020,

    5. taxes, and

    6. costs required under any State, local, or Federal law or guideline related to social distancing.

    However, the GYMS Act would not cover things like:

    • the purchase of real estate;

    • payments of interest or principal on loans originated after February 15, 2020, or

    • investments or re-lend funds.

    Where does the GYMS Act stand?

    The momentum currently built behind the GYMS Act shows the power of our industry's voice when we all work together. The mobilization of club operators, state alliances, and industry partners is driving impressive results for the GYMS Act.

    Two Bills in Congress Could Change the Fitness Industry for the Better Column Width Listing Image

    Currently, the GYMS Act has 140 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, just 10 short of our next milestone of 150 co-sponsors. Reaching 150 co-sponsors is significant because it puts us in the same league as two other industries that received additional relief, Restaurants and Stages. When industry-specific relief passed for restaurants, their bill had 153 sponsors, and for stages, that number was 174 sponsors. When it comes to getting Congress' attention, 150 is a good number.

    The strong showing of support in the House—and key relationships from club operators—made the introduction of the GYMS Act in the Senate by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) possible.

    Having both a House and Senate bill with momentum improves our lobbying position with Congressional leadership and the White House. We have their attention. Now we have to keep working to get it over the top.

    Three ways you can help support the GYMS Act, include:

    1. Send this pre-written letter to your member of Congress.

    2. Ask your members, friends, and family to send this pre-written letter as someone who values fitness to their Congress members.

    3. Bookmark the GYMS Act dashboard to follow the bill's progress.

    The PHIT Act Means Recovery for Communities and the Fitness Industry

    The PHIT Act could genuinely help our industry get running again and help millions more people get more active.

    Relief might be the industry's most immediate need, but if we are going to get back to the growth we were seeing in 2019, we need to advocate for legislation that can help speed our recovery. PHIT would allow flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) to pay for health club memberships, fitness equipment, exercise videos, and youth sports leagues.

    If passed, PHIT would enable individuals to use up to $1,000 per year—up to $2,000 for families—to cover physical activity-related expenses. Currently, the IRS code only allows you to use these accounts for treatment expenses, such as prescription medications and doctor visits.

    So what does that mean, and why is PHIT good for gyms? By allowing people to use the FSAs and HSAs on preventative care—like the qualified fitness expenses—your members could see savings of 20-30% on their gym membership, making membership more affordable and appealing, without costing you anything.

    More than 90 million Americans have access to FSAs, HSAs, and other reimbursement accounts. PHIT passing could not only make member retention easier but also expand your member target pool. The PHIT act incentivizes Americans to get physically active while cutting costs for both business owners and consumers. More people exercising would benefit our country's health and be good for the fitness industry as a whole.

    The PHIT Act has been introduced in both the House (HR 3109) by Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Mike Kelly (R-PA) and in the Senate (S.844) by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Thune (R-SD). Similar to the GYMS Act, we are working with our partners in the PHIT coalition—a group of organizations supporting PHIT— to recruit co-sponsors to the PHIT Act.

    COVID disrupted and derailed so much over the last year, but it has brought a renewed focus to the issue of America's health and all the work that needs to be done to ensure we never face another 2020. PHIT can be a part of that solution, and we aren't alone in thinking that. A group called the New Democrats sent a letter to President Biden requesting that he include something very much like PHIT to build up the ACA.

    We are building support.

    Three ways you can help support the PHIT Act, include:

    1. Send this pre-written letter to your member of Congress.

    2. Ask your members, friends, and family to send this pre-written letter as someone who values fitness to their Congress members.

    3. Bookmark the PHIT Act dashboard to follow the bill's progress.

    Our industry has been hit hard by COVID-related closures and restrictions. Rebuilding will take hard work and time, but fortunately, in the GYMS Act and PHIT Act, we have the keys to getting relief and kickstarting our recovery.

    We have the tools to reinvigorate our industry, but we need your help to get them over the finish line.

    Author avatar

    Jeff Perkins @JeffD_Perkins

    Jeff Perkins is the Vice President of Governance & Public Affairs for IHRSA. He's responsible for monitoring and influencing legislation at the state and federal level to protect club business models and operations, and help promote the health benefits of exercise. Jeff enjoys running, soccer, ice hockey, and ice cream, not in that order.