(WASHINGTON, DC) September 19, 2023—After months of collaborative work by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), other stakeholder organizations, and congressional offices, the Rural Veterinary Workforce Act, formerly known as the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act, has been reintroduced in both the House and Senate.
Championed by the AVMA, the bipartisan legislation would expand the reach of the VMLRP – a program that helps increase access to food animal veterinary services in rural areas by assisting with the significant obstacle of educational debt. The Rural Veterinary Workforce Act would end the federal taxation on VMLRP awards, which would enable more veterinarians to participate in a program that offers up to $75,000 over three years for student loan repayment in exchange for service in U.S. Department of Agriculture-designated shortage areas. This would make the tax treatment of the awards the same as for the analogous program for physicians.
In 2023, the USDA declared 237 rural veterinary shortage areas in 47 states, which is more than any year to date. Since 2010, USDA awarded 795 VMLRP awards to veterinarians; meanwhile, 2,061 applications have been received to participate in the program since its inception.
"Increasing veterinary services in high-priority rural areas through the Rural Veterinary Workforce Act would help keep the nation's livestock healthy and our food supply safe and secure, and protect public health," said Dr. Rena Carlson, AVMA President. "The AVMA has been a long-time champion of the proposed legislation. After the legislation received a historic level of support in the previous Congress, we look forward to working with the congressional champions to enact this bill and help rural communities across the country access the many essential services veterinarians provide."
In the 117th Congress, the VMLRP Enhancement Act received its highest level of congressional support with 89 cosponsors. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and John Larson (D-Conn.) reintroduced the Rural Veterinary Workforce Act.
"Quality veterinary care is essential to the agricultural economy and public health in rural communities in Michigan and across the country," said Sen. Stabenow. "But too many communities lack the veterinary services they need. This bipartisan bill will provide incentives to veterinarians to practice in underserved areas, where quality veterinary care is needed to ensure healthy livestock and a safe food supply."
"Veterinarians in rural areas are crucial in maintaining animal health and welfare, and ensuring ranchers and farmers have access to care for their livestock," said Sen. Crapo. "By addressing the overly burdensome taxes on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, we can improve access to rural veterinary care while strengthening local economies and protecting the safety of our national food supply."
"Veterinarians play a critical role in ensuring the health, safety, and security of our nation's first-class food safety system," Rep. Smith said. "The services they provide help American farmers and ranchers maintain our nation's domestic livestock supply chain. This bill updates a tax code discrepancy to ensure like treatment for physicians and veterinarians who choose to serve where they are needed most."
"Veterinarians work hard to keep our nation's livestock healthy from right here in Connecticut all across the country," said Rep. Larson. "Making student loan repayment programs accessible to veterinarians who choose to serve in rural communities will help alleviate disparities in coverage and guarantee the continued welfare of our livestock."
Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), co-chairs of the first-ever Senate Veterinary Medicine Caucus and original cosponsors of the Rural Veterinary Workforce Act, issued the following statements:
"More and more evidence shows that the lack of veterinarians in rural America poses serious risks to protecting the food supply on which we and others around the world rely," said Sen. Hyde-Smith. "We can't give up on trying to make the VMLRP as effective as possible to increase veterinary care in underserved areas, which is why I support passing legislation to fix the unfair tax treatment of this program."
"Veterinarians are our first and best line of defense against animal diseases that threaten the health of both people and animals. But too many communities, particularly those in rural areas, are facing veterinary shortages," said Sen. Klobuchar. "Improving the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which supports veterinarians serving in areas experiencing shortages, is critical to helping address this gap."