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Cochran co-sponsors bill backing rural practices

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has affirmed his support for legislation to encourage more veterinarians to practice in rural areas by exempting a loan repayment program from federal taxes.

Cochran is co-sponsoring the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (S.3621), bipartisan legislation that would give tax-exempt status to the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) and similar state programs. VMLRP was created to encourage more veterinary students to practice in underserved, rural areas.

Under current law, the VMLRP is assessed a 39 percent federal tax on any funding it receives. Rather than require these payments to the U.S. Treasury, S.3621 would make the VMLRP tax-exempt and allow the program to use those funds to enroll more veterinarians in its loan repayment program. The Senate bill would put the veterinary program on par with the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program for medical school students.

The VMLRP provides loan repayment assistance to veterinary students who agree to practice in underserved areas.  Participants agree to serve three years in an underserved area and in return receive up to $25,000 annually to repay student loans.

Authored by Senators Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), S.3621 has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. It has been endorsed by 123 animal, agricultural and veterinary medicine organizations nationwide, including the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association.

Last October, Cochran also cosponsored the Veterinary Services Investment Act (S.1709), which would establish a grant program designed to relieve veterinary shortage situations by promoting the recruitment, placement and retention of veterinarians and veterinary technicians. The grants could be used to support private veterinary practices engaged in public health activities or to support the practices of veterinarians participating in the VMLRP.

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