The House on the Hill

This week was a busy one with an array of critical hearings, several informative meetings and an orchestrated email campaign to try to get face time with legislative assistants working for members of Congress in an effort to discuss several pieces of legislation that could significantly affect veterinarians, including the elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) in the House GOP bill, the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508).

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) was created with bipartisan support in 2007 with its purpose being to attract a qualified, educated workforce to jobs in the public sector. These jobs can be in many different areas including military, public safety, law enforcement, and public health. For veterinarians, this could mean taking a job in the federal government or at a local animal shelter—jobs that often pay less than the private sector.

The PSLF program requires a significant commitment of working up to 10 years in an approved public-sector position and during that time, making 120 separate, qualifying loan payments. After meeting the time and payment requirements, your remaining loan balance would be forgiven—tax free.

In the first quarter of 2018, American student loan debt hit a whopping $1.5 trillion, according to Federal Reserve Data. According to the AVMA, the average educational debt for 2016 veterinary school graduates including those with zero debt was $143,757.82. The average for only those 2016 veterinary school graduates with debt is $167,534.89 and over 20% has at least $200,000 in debt. For graduates with these crippling financial constraints, the PSLF program can mean the difference between taking a higher-paying job in the private sector or providing critical services to the public. As Alex Sands, Assistant Director at the AVMA GRD, points out “the only professionals routinely practicing at the interface of animal health and human health [are] veterinarians [and their] unique expertise is critical to a range of public sector roles such as protecting public health, promoting animal health and welfare, bolstering food safety and security, advancing research, and educating the next generation of practitioners.”

Despite fierce opposition to its elimination, including the Department of Defense issuing their opposition in January of this year, the elimination of the PSLF is still a looming threat. The AVMA GRD is hoping to make some headway this week—with their externs in tow.