Washington, DC—U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) and U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) today introduced bipartisan legislation to put an end to the shortfall of veterinarians in underserved communities across rural America. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act would bolster our nation’s veterinary workforce by eliminating taxes on programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.
This legislation would provide a federal income tax exemption for payments received under the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) and similar state programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in smaller and rural communities. Rather than awarding full funding for this program each year, the VMLPR must immediately give back 39 percent of the money it receives to the U.S. Treasury as a federal tax. The Johnson-Crapo bill simply removes this tax burden so that more veterinarians can be selected and help rural America. This bill would allow the VMLPR to increase the number of veterinarians selected by a third.
“Communities in rural America depend on the health of their livestock for their livelihood, but many have no practicing veterinarian. The demand is only expected to increase by double digits over the next six years alone. This bill will make it easier to bring more veterinarians to these underserved areas and meet this demand,” said Johnson.
“The shortage of veterinarians in the U.S. is acute,” Crapo said, “with 1,300 counties throughout the country with less than one food animal veterinarian per 25,000 farm animals. This matters to more than just livestock and agricultural producers. It limits disease surveillance and response as well as animal welfare, and affects the economy. In Idaho alone, nearly half of our counties are in designated shortage areas. This legislation will help alleviate the shortage of veterinarians and maximize the program through addressing the tax treatment of program assistance.”
Nationwide, there are 500 counties that have at least 5,000 farm animals but no veterinarians in the area to treat them. This shortage could have dire consequences on human and animal health, public safety, animal welfare, disease surveillance and economic development. The demand for veterinarians across the United States could increase 14 percent by 2016.
Congress has acted in the past to maximize the impact of loan repayment programs. In 2004, Congress passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 to exempt the benefits made available under the National Health Service Corps, a federal loan repayment program established to increase medical care in underserved areas.
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act already has the support of more than 120 animal, agricultural and veterinary medicine organizations nationwide, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.