This week has marked the first of my Hill visits to discuss with members of Congress two important student loan issues: reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and passage of Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA). Many aspects of the Higher Education Act are essential to reducing the loan burden that veterinary students must take on in order to pursue their education. However, I would like to take time to discuss the loan repayment program.
The loan repayment program is a program under the USDA that repays up to $75,000 in education loans for each participant over a three-year period. The program is highly competitive. VMLRP applicants are selected based on qualifications across the application pool nationally; additionally, only one applicant may be selected per high-need area. Each state puts together a portfolio of “high-need” districts and details why the area is under-serviced and what the services the area needs to be performed. Many of these areas are under-served because they are not economically situated to support a veterinarian. Participants must agree to practice in a designated high-need area fulfilling the area’s need as published on the program’s website. This program is very important because not only does it get veterinarians to under-serviced areas, but it also ensures national food safety. The vast majority of high-need areas require production medicine aid. Without a veterinary presence in these areas, disease outbreaks could enter unnoticed into our food supply and affect the entire nation.
To maximize the breadth of this program, the VMLRPEA would exempt applicants from a 39% withholding tax on their loan rewards just like other health care providers receiving awards through the National Health Service Corps’ loan repayment program. Currently, money must be allocated to offset the amount that they are taxed on the forgiven loans. The program receives $5 million each year, which translates to about 50 awards per year. By exempting the loan repayment award from withholding taxes, a greater number of veterinarians can become available to rural and impoverished areas that need their service.