USDA awards $4.5M for food animal, public practice

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The Department of Agriculture announced Nov. 6 that it will offer awards totaling more than $4.5 million to 49 veterinarians toward repayment of veterinary student loans in return for service in shortage areas.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture offered the awards, which are for service in 26 states, through the federal Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. Recipients must commit to three years of service in a designated veterinary shortage area in food animal practice or public practice. The maximum loan repayment is $75,000, although awardees are eligible to apply for a renewal award.

“Rural America is challenged with recruiting veterinarians,” said Dr. John Clifford, USDA chief veterinary officer, in the announcement. “These professionals often face high student loan debt, leading them to work in locations with larger populations and higher pay. This program offers loan-repayment assistance to veterinarians, allowing them to fill shortages and work in rural areas, ultimately improving the well-being of livestock and providing an abundant and safe food supply for America.”

In fiscal 2015, the USDA received 137 applications and offered 49 awards. A map is available describing each award.

Participants must serve in one of three types of shortage situations. Awardees filling type 1 shortage areas need to dedicate at least 80 percent of their time to providing food animal veterinary services. Type 2 shortages are in rural areas where awardees must provide food animal veterinary services at least 30 percent of the time. Awardees filling type 3 shortage areas must commit at least 49 percent of their time to public practice.

Currently, the loan payments are subject to a 39 percent federal withholding tax. The USDA includes that amount in each award to offset the liability.

The AVMA is actively pursuing passage of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act. This legislation would make the loan payments exempt from the withholding tax, allowing more veterinarians to participate in the program.

Related JAVMA content:

USDA awards $4.6 million for farm, public service (Dec. 1, 2014)

Bill would lift tax on veterinary student loan repayment program (April 1, 2015)