Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow reintroduced bipartisan legislation to address the veterinarian shortage in rural areas. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act (S. 1163) would help meet the growing demand for veterinarians nationwide by eliminating taxes on programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved areas. Fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch is a co-sponsor, along with six other bipartisan Senators.
“Access to quality animal care remains critical to the needs of Idaho’s agricultural economy,” said Senator Crapo. “Far too often, ranchers and farmers cannot access adequate care for their livestock due to a lack of veterinarians in rural areas. Our legislation will facilitate an increase of veterinary doctors serving in rural areas where they are needed most, helping to strengthen rural economies and protecting the safety of our food supply.”
“Veterinarians are vital to animal welfare and our agricultural economy in Michigan and across the country,” said Senator Stabenow. “This bill creates opportunities for veterinarians to practice in underserved areas to ensure our small towns and rural communities can access quality veterinary care to protect livestock health and ensure a safe food supply.”
“It is critical that veterinary care be accessible to farmers, ranchers, and other rural Idahoans,” said Senator Risch. “This legislation will ensure this effort to increase trained veterinarians in rural areas benefits underserved communities to the highest degree possible.”
Veterinarians are a critical part of ensuring access to a safe and high-quality food supply. Unfortunately, nearly every state has a rural community that suffers from a shortage in essential veterinary services. To help address this concern, in 2003, Congress established the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP). The VMLRP assists selected food animal and public health veterinarians with student loan repayment for a three-year commitment to practice in areas of the country facing a veterinarian shortage. The program helps veterinarians with daunting student loan debt make a living in a community where starting a practice may be otherwise financially impossible.
The VMLRP, however, is subject to a significant 39 percent federal withholding tax on the assistance provided to qualifying veterinarians. This overly burdensome tax limits the reach of the program and its benefits. S. 1163 would address this limitation by providing an exemption from the federal income withholding tax for payments received under the VMLRP and similar state programs, allowing more veterinarians to have the opportunity to practice in small, rural communities where their services are in critical need.
Additional co-sponsors of the legislation include Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).