The record $789 billion economic stimulus plan Congress passed in February to pull the economy out of recession is a mixed bag for the veterinary profession.
A review shows that nowhere among the myriad of programs is funding for veterinary medicine specifically mentioned. Congress did make billions of dollars available for competitive grants for educational institutions, and veterinary schools and colleges can be expected to vie for those grants. The competition will be fierce, however.
"The stimulus is like manna from the heavens. Unfortunately, despite its size, there won't be enough manna for every need that exists," said Gina Luke, an assistant director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division who handles economic issues for the Association.
While Congress and the Obama administration were hammering out the details of the stimulus package, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges wrote to President Obama and Congress requesting that some of the funds go to increasing infrastructure at the veterinary colleges.
That didn't happen, but Brian Smith, the AAVMC's director of Governmental Affairs, still sees billions of dollars in grants as a reason for hope.
"We just saw a significant plus-up in the amount of available money. Our programs are ready, we have a lot of shovel-ready projects, and we're hopeful that we'll win some of those grants with the ultimate goal of increasing enrollment," Smith said.
For instance, Congress allotted $39.5 billion to backfill cuts in state education budgets, and some of the funds are directed toward infrastructure modernization. Many governors have highlighted higher education as a top priority, but they will be spreading those dollars across the state's entire education system, which has seen year after year of budget cuts.
Both Smith and Luke acknowledge that deans at the veterinary institutions will be among a loud chorus at universities and other colleges requesting those funds.
"Each veterinary college can make a strong case, but they will face stiff competition from other health profession schools and undergraduate colleges, as well as K-12 education, for limited dollars," Luke acknowledged. "It will be a heavy lift for any entity to secure that money."
In the area of biomedical research, Congress directed $10.4 billion to the National Institutes of Health—of which $1 billion is earmarked for repair and modernization projects at existing academic research facilities. Here again, veterinary institutions wanting these dollars will be competing with human health care institutions for the federal grants. Luke sees a potential for one-health and comparative medicine projects attracting some of those funds.
Of the $500 million going to the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, $200 million is allocated for scholarship and loan repayment programs authorized by Title VII, which applies to veterinary colleges and veterinary students.
The AVMA Governmental Relations Division has no plans to lobby for stimulus funds but will support efforts by the AAVMC to do so, Luke said. At press time, the division was focused on the multibillion-dollar omnibus appropriations bill, which includes funds for AVMA priorities such as the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, animal identification, and Section 1443 formula funds for veterinary schools and colleges.
"There are a handful of programs we want money for, and they're not part of this stimulus package, but they are part of the appropriations package," Luke said.