March 09, 2011

Crapo, Johnson Introduce Bill to End Shortfall of Veterinarians in Rural Areas

Washington, DC-U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota)  today continued their efforts to end the shortfall of veterinarians in rural areas by introducing the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act of 2011 .  The bipartisan bill would help meet the growing demand for veterinarians nationwide 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. The VMLRP law makes the federal government responsible for paying taxes on the income to the veterinarian. 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 make VMLRP money tax exempt and allow the program to increase the number of veterinarians selected by a third. 

"This bill will help create new jobs and protect public health in rural America," Crapo said.  "Outside of the benefits to livestock and agricultural producers, it would improve disease surveillance and response as well as improve animal welfare. In Idaho alone, 33 of our 44 counties are in designated shortage areas. This legislation will help alleviate the shortage of veterinarians and maximize training through addressing the tax treatment of program assistance." 

"I know that we have a lot on our plate during this session of Congress, but we can't let this problem go unsolved. The demand for veterinarians is continuing to grow at a time when some communities already lack a practicing veterinarian. This is simply unsustainable, especially when the livelihood of our producers depends on the health of their livestock. We can increase the number of veterinarians placed in underserved and shortage areas by one third if this bill becomes law," said Johnson. 

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 is projected to lead to a four to five percent shortfall per year between 2010 and 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.  

Support for the Crapo-Johnson bill has grown to include a cross-section of Senators from both sides of aisle since the legislation was first introduced last year. Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) , Gillibrand (D-New York), Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) support the legislation.  

This bill has also garnered 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, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.