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Debt forgiveness for farmers, ranchers and veterinarians?

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 03 March 2017

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) recently introduced a bill offering young farmers the same kind of student loan forgiveness given to teachers, nurses and other public servants.

The Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060), as it is currently called, would amend the previous Higher Education Act of 1965 by adding to the list of public service “a full-time job as an employee or manager of a qualified farm or ranch.”

The bill defines a qualified farm or ranch as, “a farm or ranch whose earnings of gross revenue during the year from the sale of agricultural products are equal to or greater than … in the case of 2017, $35,000 … in the case of an succeeding year, the amount applicable under this subparagraph for the previous year increased by the estimated percentage change in the Consumer Price Index (as determined by the Secretary, using the definition in section 478(f) for the most recent year preceding such year.”

According to the terms and conditions of federal student loans, to be eligible for debt forgiveness, named public servants must be “employed in a public service job at the time of such forgiveness; and has been employed in a public service job during the period in which the borrower makes each of the 120 payments….” In other words, after ten years of current loan payments, full-time farmers and ranchers would then be eligible for federal student loan debt forgiveness.

Initially there appears to be bipartisan support, with co-sponsors listed as Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), John Fasco (R-N.Y.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.).

In addition, PRNewswire reports the introduction of S. 487, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). The bill would “increase funding available for grants through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which implements loan forgiveness for veterinarians who commit to serving in federally designated veterinary shortage areas.”

According to the PRNewswire release, American Veterinary Medical Foundation provides up to $75,000 in loan repayments in exchange for at least three years of service in designated veterinary shortage areas, and says “However, a 39 percent income withholding tax is applied to each award, which significantly lowers the number of awards the U.S. Department of Agriculture can make each year. If this tax had been removed, more than 100 additional veterinarians – and rural communities – could have benefitted from the VMLRP.” Student loan debt averages for veterinary college graduates was reported to have topped $140,000 in 2015.

Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), who introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “"Animal health is critical to maintaining the United States' world-leading standards for food safety, with veterinarians and producers working together to ensure livestock are appropriately cared for. However, shortages of large-animal veterinarians in many of the rural areas where our meat, poultry, eggs and dairy are produced make this work more challenging. This legislation addresses an inconsistency in our tax code involving the treatment of student loan repayment programs while ensuring the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program's limited funding is more directly focused on bringing animal health providers to the areas where they are most needed."

Go to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation website to read more on this proposed legislation.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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