RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces Bipartisan Legislation Providing Tax Credits for Families to Lower the Cost of Little League, Youth Rec Sports, and Equipment

Families Pay $883/Year Per Child, Per Sport

Aug 16, 2023
Press

Above: Gottheimer with local Fort Lee Little League players and coaches.

FORT LEE — Today, August 16, 2023, with the 2023 Little League World Series underway, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) stood with local Little League athletes, parents, and coaches at Fort Lee’s American Baseball Field to announce new bipartisan federal legislation that will provide tax credits for families to lower the cost of youth recreational sports and equipment. 

The bipartisan Promoting Lifelong Activity for Youth Act, or PLAY Act, is being led by Gottheimer and Congressman Mike Lawler (NY-10).

The bipartisan PLAY Act:

  • Allows families to use the Child and Dependent Tax Credit for expenses related to youth sports and other physical activities. 
  • Helps parents pay for their children’s league registration fees and sports equipment using pre-tax dollars and boost the maximum contribution of these dollars per household. 
  • Creates a federal grant program to invest in recreational youth sports programs and organizations — expanding opportunities for kids to get involved while helping lower costs for parents and families.

Costs of Little League and youth sports:

  • The average family pays $883 annually for one child’s primary sport.
  • Studies show that children from lower-income families are half as likely to play sports as children from homes with higher incomes.
  • The cost of baseballs has increased 50% in recent years, and the cost of umpires has increased 20%.

Benefits of Recreational Youth Sports:

  • New studies have directly linked participation in youth team sports with fewer mental health difficulties. And being on a team improves self-esteem and confidence.
  • Adolescents who play sports are eight times more likely to be physically active at age 24 than those who do not play.
  • Sports boost cardiovascular health, burn calories, raise metabolism, and improve strength and mobility. Physically active young people also tend to have more quality sleep.

“Through rec sports, my daughter and son have learned so much, had so much fun, and made friendships that will last a lifetime. 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,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “We need to make sure every kid in Jersey who wants to, has the opportunity to play and take part in recreational, or rec, sports leagues. 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.”

“I would like to thank Josh for coming here and putting together this program because all of this success really starts on registration day. If the price is too high, a kid who doesn’t have that opportunity or the parent who doesn’t have the financial means has to choose — am I going to register one, two, three, four kids? It’s going to cost $1000. Is it worth it? We’ve always used our sponsors and funding from the borough to keep costs low to keep that community,” said Fort Lee Little League President Tom Porto. 

“Youth sports brings together the community and the landscape of youth sports has changed a lot 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,” said Little League New Jersey District 6 Administrator Jeff Ware. “Anything that Josh can do, the borough can do, and the government can do to help more kids play, I’m all for it.”

Gottheimer was joined by New Jersey State Senator Gordon Johnson, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, Fort Lee Councilman Bryan Drumgoole, Fort Lee Councilman Harvey Sohmer, Fort Lee Little League President Tom Porto, Little League New Jersey District 6 Administrator Jeff Ware, parents, and Local Fort Lee Little League and Softball players.

Video of today’s announcement can be found here.

Below: Gottheimer with local Fort Lee Little League players.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

Good morning! Thank you for joining us today at Fort Lee’s beautiful American Baseball Field — home to so many of our incredible local Little League players. We are lucky to have fields like these across Northern New Jersey. Today is also the beginning of the Little League World Series, so tune in today at 1PM if you have a few minutes. 

We’re here today because we need to make sure every kid in Jersey who wants to, has the opportunity to play and take part in recreational, or rec, sports leagues that are made possible by the tireless work of so many parents, coaches, and volunteers, like Tom and Jeff.

These folks donate countless hours of their time to make sure our kids are staying active and having fun in safe and positive environments. 

As a parent of two kids who’ve played rec sports, I can’t thank you both and all of our volunteer parents enough for constantly looking out for our kids. My daughter and son have learned so much, had so much fun, and made friendships that will last a lifetime.

But, if you look at the numbers, rec participation is down sharply since the pandemic. Since 2021, we’ve seen youth participation in team sports at historically low rates and we’re still not back to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, only 37 percent of children ages 6-12 played team sports on a regular basis in 2021. That’s far below 45 percent in 2008. 

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 — video games, social media, TikTok, you name it. We know that recent studies show playing video games can contribute to poor sleep and impact attention, academic performance, and mood. Long hours on video games have also been linked with obesity. 

Another driver of these numbers for many families is simply the cost of participating in rec sports — and the cost has gone up. 

We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make rec sports affordable for everyone — and that’s why we are here this morning.

The average family pays $883 dollars a year on just one child’s primary sport. That’s for just one child, for one sport. Imagine if a family has two, three, or four kids who all play more than one sport. We’re talking about thousands of dollars.

Studies show that children from lower-income families are half as likely to play sports as children from homes with higher incomes.

I’m worried that too many children are being forced to watch their friends from the stands rather than on the field where they may want to be.

That’s why, alongside local youth athletes, coaches, and parents, I’m announcing new bipartisan legislation with New York Republican Mike Lawler — the Promoting Lifelong Activity for Youth Act, also known as the PLAY Act — to help lower the cost of rec sports for families so that more kids can get out, learn, and play sports with their friends. We need to get our kids back on the fields, so they can learn sports, be active, and create good life-long habits. 

To be clear, this legislation is to help families afford to have their kids play community rec sports and cannot be used for anything for profit. That means it won’t go toward private lessons, businesses, or travel teams.

First, the PLAY Act will allow families to use the Child and Dependent Tax Credit for expenses related to youth sports and other physical activities.

Second, the PLAY Act will also help parents pay for their children’s league registration fees and sports equipment using pre-tax dollars and boost the maximum contribution of these dollars per household. 

Lastly, the PLAY Act will put in place a federal grant program to invest in rec youth sports programs and organizations, so that we can expand opportunities to get more kids involved and help lower costs for parents and families.

There’s nothing partisan or political about making sure kids have every opportunity to have fun with their friends, make great memories, and stay active and healthy. 

The bipartisan PLAY Act is a win-win-win for kids, parents, and town rec leagues.

I can’t overstate how important rec sports are to kids here in North Jersey. 

So many of us played rec sports growing up, and I have no doubt that kids here, and across our state, will have memories that will last a lifetime.  

Just look at the successes of Fort Lee’s Little League baseball and softball teams this year. 

They had four district championship teams — their 8U, 12U, and 16U baseball teams all won district titles as did their 14U softball team.

But they didn’t stop there. The 14U girls won second in the state and the 12U and 16U boys placed third in the state.

It’s been Fort Lee’s most successful Little League year ever! 

As I said earlier, we have too many kids at home staring at screens alone, and not enough outside, on a team, and making friends in-person — learning those valuable life skills.

It’s not about becoming the next Derek Jeter or Carli Lloyd, two Jersey-born legends, although with all of these Fort Lee championships who knows?

Rec team sports — especially Little League, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball — are about making lifelong friends and staying active and healthy — physically and mentally. 

That’s something more of our nation’s kids need. Childhood obesity is at an all-time high and the U.S has received low grades for physical activity among youth.

Sports get kids out of the house and moving which benefits their cardiovascular health, burns calories, raises metabolism, and improves strength and mobility. Plus, physically active young people tend to have more quality sleep.

Adolescents who play sports are eight times more likely to be physically active at age 24 than those who do not play.

But it’s not just physical benefits that come with youth sports. New studies have directly linked participation in youth team sports with fewer mental health difficulties. And being on a team improves self-esteem and confidence.

Experts report that participation in youth team sports has been linked with lower rates of depression and anxiety, and reduced risk of suicide and drug abuse.

Thankfully, here in Fort Lee, the Little League registration fees of about $125 dollars are some of the lowest. Other nearby towns are more expensive. 

Here in Fort Lee, they do their best to keep the cost low with business sponsorship, but the league still ends up losing money. These are nonprofit organizations that are at risk of being lost because of lack of participation and rising costs. 

For example, the Fort Lee coaches told me that the cost of baseballs has skyrocketed 50 percent in the past couple years and the cost of umpires has jumped 15 to 20 percent. 

And I was shocked to learn that many towns and counties down in South Jersey have been charging organizations like Little League — the town nonprofit rec leagues — a fee to use their public fields. Talk about double taxation.  

Also, that $125 registration fee only covers uniforms, supplies, and the cost of umpires. You have to remember that parents still have to pay what could be hundreds of dollars on equipment. Think about the cost of basketball shoes or a lacrosse stick and pads, which can cost three or four hundred dollars or more for each kid. The average price of a bat alone is in the $100 to $200 dollar range.

That’s why the PLAY Act is so important, and why we are here today. 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. 

By working together to make sure all kids have the opportunity to play rec sports, here in the greatest country in the world, I know that our best days will always be ahead of us. Don’t forget to tune into the Little League World Series. 

God bless you, your families, and God bless the United States of America.

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