While the president and the speaker of the House of Representatives exchanged barbs about impeachment, infrastructure and insanity on May 22, representatives from the fitness industry spent that day on the Hill trying to sway Democrats and Republicans to back the latest PHIT bill.
Lobbyists and representatives from IHRSA and members of the PHIT Coalition attended 50 meetings with House representatives or their staff to solicit co-sponsorships of the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act.
Under the PHIT Act, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs), which currently can pay for medical expenses and prescriptions, would be expanded to pay for fitness-related expenses, such as health club memberships, yoga and group fitness classes, fitness equipment, exercise videos, youth sports league registration fees, race entry fees and personal trainers, to the tune of $1,000 per year for individuals and $2,000 per year for families.
During the 2018 session of Congress, the PHIT Act passed the U.S. House for the first time, but the bill did not make it to a vote in the Senate before the 115th Congress was cut short due to the government shutdown.
In March, the bill was reintroduced in the House (H.R.1679) by Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) and Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) and in the Senate (S.680) by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT).
The PHIT Coalition that lobbied Congress last week included Chris Craytor, president and COO of acac Fitness & Wellness in Charlottesville, Virginia, and an IHRSA board member; Linda Mitchell, director of public and government relations at the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC), Newtown, Pennsylvania; Helen Durkin, executive vice president of public policy at IHRSA; and IHRSA’s Washington, DC-based lobbyists Jennifer LaTourette of Van Scoyoc Associates and Jay Sweeney of Global Prospects, LLC.
Leading the charge was Jim Worthington, owner of the NAC, chair of the IHRSA board of directors, and a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.
"It was a great day with over 50 meetings on the Hill taking place with staffers and members of Congress pledging support for PHIT,” Worthington said. “IHRSA is pleased to be an integral part of the coalition spearheading this initiative which is drawing bipartisan support and gaining true momentum in this 116th Session of Congress."
As of May 22, the Senate bill had 10 co-sponsors (three Democrats, six Republicans and one Independent) and the House bill had 52 co-sponsors (29 Democrats and 23 Republicans), according to Congress.gov. Last year, the bill garnered support from 287 members of Congress who are still in Congress today, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).
On a call with media prior to the May 22 fly-in by IHRSA and the PHIT Coalition, Worthington said that he expected the bill to get similar bipartisan support this year like it did in 2018, and he expects it to pass this year.
However, that prediction came before the president declined to work with the House on the infrastructure bill unless the House dropped its investigations of him and his administration. Considering the infrastructure bill was a campaign promise by the president and was important to the Democrats, and this bipartisan opportunity to do something good for the country seems to be on hold as of this writing, how will the PHIT Act fare in this political environment? Possibly poorly—that is, unless pressure is applied.
To get PHIT to pass this year, both parties and both houses of Congress need to work together. Before Congress left town for the Memorial Day holiday, only 17 laws had passed both houses of Congress during this legislative session, the fewest since 2013 when 11 laws were passed at this time, according to ABC News. The Democrat-controlled House has passed 100 bills (including bills on voters’ rights, the climate and a bill to protect LGBTQ people), but none have been taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate has passed 20 bills (including one to stop robocalls), but none have been taken up by the House.
So if PHIT passes the House first this year like it did last year (IHRSA focused its efforts on May 22 to the House with the thought that this was the low-hanging fruit), is there any guarantee that the Senate will take up the bill for a vote based on how reluctant each chamber seems to be to take up bills passed by the other chamber?
Only if pressure is applied. The two sides will only work together on important legislation if their constituents make it known that they won’t stand for the two sides putting party before the people. That means that if you support the PHIT Act, you need to speak up and urge your Congress member to support the PHIT bill. If the bill does pass the House first, you must contact your senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to take up the bill for a vote. And if it passes the Senate first, you must do the same on the House side.
IHRSA has resources to familiarize you with the bill here. Even if you are a YMCA, Jewish Community Center, university rec center, a parks and rec facility or a medical wellness facility instead of a commercial club operator, you can still urge your Congress member to support the PHIT Act because this act will benefit you, too.
On IHRSA's PHIT web page, IHRSA offers an informational sheet with the main number of the House and Senate plus some talking points to share with your Congress member or you can go here to find a pre-written email that you can send to your representative.
Consider getting your friends in the industry and your fitness facility members to contact their representatives, too. This bill affects your members, so don’t leave them out of the fight.
And share the word on social media by using the hashtag #PassPHIT.