Credit: Yolanda Chen

The School of Veterinary Medicine, which for months appeared to be on the verge of losing millions in state funding, will almost certainly have its funding from Harrisburg remain in place, according to the latest updates from the state budget negotiations.

In the Pennsylvania state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, funding for Penn — close to 90 percent of which goes to the Vet School — was slated to be cut. The Vet School stood to lose almost $30 million, which constitutes 20 percent of their total budget.

This funding now looks like it might be restored by a bill that allocates $30.1 million from the state budget to the Vet School and over $281 thousand to the Division of Infectious Diseases at Penn Medicine.

The state Senate has already voted unanimously for the bill to pass and the House of Representatives will vote on the bill later this week, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy said in a statement.

“We are grateful to the Senate for unanimously voting to restore funding for the School of Veterinary Medicine and look forward to continuing to advocate for the House of Representatives to support restoration,” MacCarthy said.

The bill comes after advocates urged the government to reconsider the restoration of funding that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf proposed eliminating in his budget address in February. Wolf’s cut came as a surprise to the Vet School, which has received funding from the state for the past 133 years.

Vet School Dean Joan Hendricks wrote a letter earlier this month to the editor of The Pike County Courier, a newspaper in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania, urging people to recognize the vital role that veterinarians play in not just providing care for companion animals, but also in protecting the food supply and public health.

Hendricks cited the Vet School’s ability to “fight re-emerging threats such as rabies,” “[help] farmers and truckers see where [swine virus] is present to prevent its spread,” and ensure that “99.99 percent of Pennsylvania eggs [make] it to market without salmonella.”

She also noted that Penn Vet was the only school of veterinary medicine in Pennsylvania.

Philip Hicks, a second-year Vet school and Cell and Molecular Biology PhD student, said that state funding was particularly important for Penn Vet's large animal facilities at the New Bolton Center. 

"State funding for Penn Vet is paramount in maintaining the high standards of care and professionalism the hospital is known for throughout our community," Hicks said. "[The New Bolton Center's] mission to prevent and treat disease has economic ramifications in both public and private sectors." 

Richard Ebert, president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which provides legislative support and services to farmers in the state, also spoke out against the cut in funding. Ebert wrote to the Centre Daily Times, a periodical based out of State College, Pa., urging state lawmakers to support the restoration of state funding to Penn Vet. He cited the organization’s role in studying diseases that could influence human health.

“As a dairy farmer, I couldn’t imagine losing access to Penn Vet’s world-class research, food protection programs, and veterinarian care,” Ebert wrote. “That’s why we’re calling on the state general assembly to fund this critical support system of agriculture.”

Mark O’Neill, director of communications at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said in an email that the organization was concerned that a loss of funding would diminish the Vet School’s “strong focus on Pennsylvania agriculture,” as well as its partnership with the State Department of Agriculture and Penn State University to monitor animal diseases.

O’Neill also wrote that farmers were concerned the loss would “hurt Penn’s ability to attract, train, and produce large animal veterinarians, who are decreasing in numbers in Pennsylvania and across the U.S.”

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