Senators Stabenow, Crapo Lead Bipartisan Bill to Help Address Shortage of Veterinarians in Rural America

Monday, September 18, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) today introduced bipartisan legislation to address a critical shortage of veterinarians in rural communities. The Rural Veterinary Workforce Act S.2829 would provide tax benefits to veterinarians to encourage them to practice in rural communities. This will not only increase the care available to livestock and poultry, but also address food safety and public health concerns in these communities.

“Quality veterinary care is essential to the agricultural economy and public health in rural communities in Michigan and across the country,” said Senator 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 Senator 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.”

“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.” 

Veterinarians are critical to the agriculture economy and public health. Unfortunately, rural communities face a chronic shortage of quality veterinary services, and 500 counties across 46 states reported critical shortages last year. In 2003, Congress established the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to address this shortage by assisting qualifying veterinarians with student loan repayment in exchange for a three-year commitment to practice in underserved communities.  

However, the program is currently subject to a significant federal withholding tax, which limits available resources and the reach of its benefits. The Rural Veterinary Workforce Act provides an exemption from the federal income withholding tax for payments received under the program and similar state programs, helping give more veterinarians the opportunity to practice in small, rural communities where their services are needed most. This change would reflect similar exemptions provided to medical doctors and other human health practitioners.  

Stabenow and Crapo led this effort in the 117th Congress, and Representative Adrian Smith introduced companion legislation in the House earlier this year. 

The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Senators King (D-Maine), Hyde-Smith (R- Miss.), Smith (D-Minn.), Murkowski (R-Alaska), Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Moran (R-Kan.), Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Boozman (R-Ark.), Feinstein (D-Calif), Collins (R-Maine), Murray (D-Wash.), and Risch (R-Idaho).

A statement of support from over 100 stakeholder groups can be found here.