Legislators waste little time introducing new veterinary loan bill
Right out of the gate, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has reintroduced the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act to the new session of Congress. While the last Congress—one of the least productive in recent history—failed to take up the bill as part of tax reform or any other piece of legislation, many veterinary leaders, including those in the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), are hoping to see progress this year.
The bill aims to amend the Internal Revenue Code to remove a 39 percent withholding tax on awards granted through the Veterinary Loan Repayment Program, which can total up to $25,000 annually per recipient. This would allow the program, which provides loan repayment aid to veterinarians who practice public health or food animal medicine in designated shortage areas across the country, to grant awards to more individuals and increase veterinary access to ranchers and farmers in need.
“The AVMA has been advocating for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act since 2009, and we will continue to do so this Congress," says Gina Luke, assistant director of the AVMA's Governmental Relations Division. "The AVMA remains optimistic that this commonsense legislation, which will help so many farmers and ranchers in rural communities across the country, can pass as part of any other tax reform bill that comes to the floor." Congress passed legislation removing the withholding tax on a similar human health program in 2004. Currently, SB 440 has bipartisan support from 17 co-sponsors.
The AVMA continues to encourage veterinarians and those participating in the loan repayment program to speak to their Congressmen and women about the positive impact of the bill. Veterinary students recently took the cause straight to legislators during the AVMA's 2015 Legislative Fly-in March 2-3. “The rising cost of student debt is on a lot of these students’ minds as they plan for their future careers, and opening up more opportunities for veterinarians to serve rural communities in need of public health or food animal medicine is also critical to our nation’s agricultural community," says AVMA President Ted Cohn, DVM, in an association release.
The nearly 70 students who participated in the fly-in focused their legislative meetings on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which would improve the terms and conditions on federal student loans for veterinary students, provide them the ability to reconsolidate or refinance their loans, and maintain the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The participants talked with legislators about the burden that educational debt is having on young professionals, particularly in the veterinary medical field where the average graduating debt for veterinarians has increased roughly 7.5 percent annually during the last decade to $135,283 in 2014, the AVMA says.
For more information on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, go to avma.org.