Proposed Federal Legislation Would Lower Cost of Youth Sports | Sports Destination Management

Proposed Federal Legislation Would Lower Cost of Youth Sports

Sep 01, 2023 | By: Michael Popke

Bipartisan legislation aimed at providing tax credits for families to lower the cost of youth recreational sports and equipment will soon be making its way through Congress.


U.S. Congress members Josh Gottheimer (a Democrat from New Jersey) and Mike Lawler (a Republican from New York) recently introduced the Promoting Lifelong Activity for Youth Act — or PLAY Act. It is labeled as an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 “to provide for youth sports, to establish a grant program for recreational youth sports and for other purposes.”

Specifically, the bill would achieve the following:


 • Allow families to use the Child and Dependent Tax Credit for expenses related to youth sports and other physical activities.


• Help parents pay for their children’s league registration fees and sports equipment using pre-tax dollars and boost the maximum contribution of those dollars per household.


• Create a federal grant program to invest in recreational youth sports programs and organizations, thereby expanding opportunities for kids to get involved while helping lower costs for parents and families.


“Through rec sports, my daughter and son have learned so much, had so much fun and made friendships that will last a lifetime,” Gottheimer said in a statement. “But, if you look at the numbers, rec participation is down sharply since the pandemic. The number of kids playing team sports today is nowhere near where it should be, and I’m afraid this trend will continue. Part of the drop-off is the battle with screen time, but another driver of these numbers for many families is simply the cost of participating in rec sports — and the cost has gone up. … I never want a kid sitting on the sideline because he or she can’t afford to get out and play and stay healthy and active, regardless of the sport.”


Proposed Federal Legislation Would Lower Cost of Youth Sports “Youth sports brings together the community, and the landscape of youth sports has changed a lot,” added Little League New Jersey District 6 Administrator Jeff Ware. “And I don’t begrudge anybody who wants to play on a club team but it’s leaving out a lot of kids — those prices that it would take to be on a club team. It also doesn’t have that same sense of community. Anything that Josh can do … and the government can do to help more kids play, I’m all for it.”


When introducing the legislation at American Little League Field in Fort Lee, N.J., Gottheimer and Lawler cited data from The Aspen Institute’s Project Play indicating that the average family pays $833 annually for one child’s primary sport, that kids from lower-income families are half as likely to play sports as ones from homes with higher incomes, and that the cost of baseballs has increased 50 percent in recent year while the cost of umpires has increased 20 percent.


“As a former Little League player and proud second baseman for the undefeated 1998 Nanuet Braves, I know how much value there is in Little League and youth sports programs,” Lawler said in a statement. “These young athletes are taught the value of hard work, perseverance, and teamwork — skills that serve them both on and off the field and stick with them for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, with the affordability crisis, families in New York, New Jersey, and across the nation are struggling to pay bills and that often means afterschool and summer programs like youth sports are on the chopping block.”


Another survey, this one from Lending Tree in 2022, found that youth sports caused “financial strain” on families last fall for almost six in 10 parents — and more than 10 percent expected to take on new debt as a result. To reduce the costs associated with team sports, 34 percent of parents with a child on a sports team planned to participate in fundraisers. Other cost-reduction strategies cited included scholarships (18 percent), volunteering (11 percent) and having the child work to cover costs (11 percent).


Last fall, parks and recreation officials in the City of St. Paul, Minn., dropped all youth sports fees for kids ages 10 and up, instead using federal funding from the American Rescue Plan to cover fees for three years.


“Sometimes a young person may not have the access to family structure that may allow them to register or have the funds to do so,” Andy Rodriguez, St. Paul’s parks and recreation director, told at the time. Indeed, after fee-free registration was announced city leaders noticed a 38 percent increase in basketball registrations over the previous year, which they attributed to the removal of the $25 to $40 registration costs that could have been a barrier for some families. 


“I’m super proud of this,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter tweeted last October. “It’s one of the coolest things we’ve done. And not just basketball — we used #AmericanRescuePlan funds to ditch fees for all sports & @SaintPaulParks is currently serving 1000+ more youth than this time last year. #WeWontStop

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