Trained veterinarians from Idaho’s and nation’s farming communities play a key role in maintaining animal health and welfare and ensuring ranchers and farmers have access to the care of their livestock. Excessively heavy federal taxes on the veterinary drug loan repayment program limit the scope of the program’s benefits, and addressing these limitations would allow more veterinarians the opportunity to practice in small rural communities where their services are in great need.
I joined Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, to reintroduce bipartisan legislation to address the lack of veterinarians in rural areas. A bipartisan group of 13 senators, including his colleague Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho, have co-sponsored the legislation so far this Congress. S. 2215, the Veterinary Drug Loan Repayment Program Improvement Act, would help meet the growing demand for veterinarians nationwide by eliminating taxes on the VMLRP which encourages veterinarians to practice in areas underserved.
Sadly, almost all states have a rural community that suffers from a shortage of essential veterinary services. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the US Department of Agriculture provides an online map (www.nifa.usda.gov/vmlrp-map) illustrating the veterinary product shortage situation in our country. Six regional areas in Idaho are among the 221 veterinary shortage areas designated by the USDA for 2021. These shortage areas include Adams, Bear Lake, Bonner, Boundary, Canyon, Caribou, Cassia, Clearwater, Gem, Idaho, Kootenai , Lewis, Minidoka, Nez Counties of Percé, Payette and Washington. In addition, there is an unmet need for public sector veterinarians to administer regulatory programs, perform surveillance, and respond to widespread threats of livestock disease.
In a blog post from May 28, 2021, Danielle Farley, social scientist at NIFA, explained the problem: “Food animal producers rely on vets with expertise in medicine and surgery. animals as well as advanced training in herd health, diagnostic medicine, epidemiology, public health, and food safety. One of the causes of this shortage is the high cost of professional veterinary medical training. Graduates of veterinary colleges typically have, on average, student loan debt greater than $ 150,000. The high cost of veterinary education leads many new graduates to choose lucrative careers such as small animal medicine.
In 2003, Congress created the VMLRP to help meet the need for veterinary services. The program is helping selected veterinarians for animal feed and public health repay their student loan for a three-year commitment to practice in areas of the country facing a veterinarian shortage. This program helps vets pay off student loan debt so they can afford to start a practice where it’s needed most.
The VMLRP, however, is subject to a significant federal withholding tax of 37% on assistance provided to qualifying veterinarians. This limits the scope of the program and its benefits. In a letter to Congress calling for passage of the VMLRPA Enhancement Act, more than 100 agricultural and veterinary medicine organizations, including the Idaho Veterinary Medical Association, wrote: “Since 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture has awarded 552 awards to veterinary practice in 47 states, Puerto Rico and on federal lands. Meanwhile, 1,632 vets have requested to fill shortages since the program began. If these awards had been exempt from withholding tax, about one additional veterinarian would have been selected to practice in communities across rural America for the three awards given. ”
It’s time to eliminate this hefty tax to improve access to veterinary care in rural Idaho and across the United States. of our food supply.
Mike Crapo represents Idaho’s first congressional district in the US Senate. He can be contacted at crapo.senate.gov.