Lawmakers focus COVID aid on businesses owned by women, veterans, and people of color

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The latest legislation aims to make gyms owned by marginalized groups a priority.

A new bipartisan bill would aim to prioritize women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Gym Mitigation and Survival Act, introduced in the House on Friday by Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), aims to provide $30 billion of COVID relief to struggling gyms across the nation, many of which were shuttered when the pandemic struck, with a special focus on assisting fitness facilities owned by women, minorities, and veterans.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) would award the aid funds under the legislation, which specifically requires the agency to prioritize grants for the marginalized and underserved groups, the Hill noted.

The Community Gyms Coalition, a group of 15,000 facilities formed last November, has been calling for relief for months and endorsed the House bill, according to the outlet.

Debra Strougo, co-founder of the boutique fitness studio Row House, is a member of the coalition's advisory board.

"The clock is ticking for our leaders in Washington to provide community gyms the relief they need to survive," she said. "Because of industry-specific closures and restrictions, thousands of local, independent gym owners have their hands tied as their savings vanish and debt skyrockets."

According to Yelp's Local Impact Report, more than 6,000 fitness facilities have closed since last September.

Those run by Black and brown owners have struggled significantly. According to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in late summer last year, the number of active business owners in the country overall dropped 22% between February and April alone, as lockdowns forced many to shutter. "Black businesses experienced the most acute decline, with a 41 percent drop. Latinx business owners fell by 32 percent and Asian business owners dropped by 26 percent," the report stated. "In contrast, the number of white business owners fell by 17 percent."

The gyms bill is the latest legislative attempt to prioritize aid for women and minorities, to address racial and gender gaps made worse by the pandemic.

In May 2020, then-California Senator Kamala Harris (D) and Illinois Rep. Robin Kelly (D), introduced the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act of 2020 in their respective chambers, tasking the Department of Health and Human Services to "provide reports and recommendations related to racial and ethnic disparities in the COVID-19 response to Congress and relevant federal agencies." The legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions but unfortunately stalled and was never enacted.

In July, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020, directing "the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to award grants, and the Office of Minority Health (OMH) to develop a plan, to address health disparities related to COVID-19."

The legislation aimed to improve testing and vaccinations for underserved demographic groups. Like the racial disparities act, the bill was referred to the HELP committee but never made it past that point.

To provide more aid to struggling workers and families, Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package.

A White House fact sheet, citing economists, estimated that the plan's investments "will lift over eight million Black, Latino, and Asian Americans out of poverty [...]."

According to the White House, Biden's plan will add protections for frontline workers, 40% of whom are people of color. An increase and extension of unemployment insurance benefits will support the "one in ten Black workers and one in eleven Latino workers who are unemployed," the White House said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.