Cortez Masto: Congress must work to increase virus testing

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Steve Marcus

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-NV, responds to a question during an editorial board meeting at the Las Vegas Sun office in Henderson Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.

Fri, Apr 24, 2020 (6:20 p.m.)

For U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., one of Congress’ main jobs right now is increasing testing for the coronavirus. Returning to normal, she said, requires the ability to track the disease accurately.

“What we have to do until we get the vaccine is ramp up the testing,” she said. “If we are able to ramp up the testing so we can identify those who have the symptoms, do the contact tracing and identify those who are asymptomatic but still might contagious and isolate those individuals, we can then open the doors so others can be free to get out and get our economy going again.”

In a phone interview with the Sun, Cortez Masto talked about future legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Congress’s role in the pandemic.

Congress recently passed supplementary funding for some federal aid programs. What are some things you’ll be pushing during in the next federal aid package when Congress reconvenes?

I think, most importantly, health care and making sure everybody has access to health care. We didn’t do enough on that in the CARES Act, and this interim act doesn’t have a lot when it comes to making sure that individuals can access health care.

I’m supportive of looking at how we expand and incorporate COBRA into a package. I think we should look at how we can also utilize the Affordable Care Act and expand coverage for individuals that may not have health care right now.

I want to address the conversation that we’re having right now nationally and going into November’s elections.

We need to make sure that the state of Nevada and all states have the funding they need to move forward with elections — particularly if they are vote by mail — and make sure that the state of Nevada has the resources. When we’re talking about voting by mail, we’ve got to make sure that we’re not disenfranchising voters as well.

There needs to be more funding for state and local governments. They’re the front lines, they’re the firefighters, they’re the police officers, they’re the first responders, they’re the teachers. That’s our safety net right there.

Looking at the Post Office, I know there’s concerns right now. The postal workers that I see regularly know that I’m sheltering in place. Sometimes they’re a lifeline to people who are isolated and they’re delivering package that are needed.

On immigration, we need to make sure that everyone in our community has access to testing and health care for free. We can’t leave anyone out if we’re really going to address this. Many of those who are undocumented are not able to access some of this health care that they may need, so that needs to be addressed.

I wanted to hop back to what you said about funding to state and local governments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recently suggested that state and local governments be allowed to go “bankrupt.” Can you respond to that?

It’s absurd, absolutely absurd.

Why would we want to do that? Why would we not want to ensure that our first responders, those that are out there on the front lines, those that are providing the needed services now, lose their jobs? It’s an absurd statement, and I think that he’s out of touch.

What does his potential opposition mean for any form of legislation in the Senate that would expand funding to state and local governments?

He’s only one vote. I can tell you I have seen and heard not only from my Democratic colleagues but Republican colleagues in the Senate who oppose his position.

A lack of funding for these local and state governments seems like it could contribute to unemployment if first responders and others have their jobs threatened. Is that a concern?

That’s absolutely right, and, again, they are the safety net right now. We have pushed so hard to get funding into individuals’ pockets through unemployment and through expanding unemployment insurance and creating pandemic unemployment insurance. Where do you think that money is coming from at the state level? The Department of Unemployment, Training and Rehabilitation.

If we don’t have those workers and the state can’t fund them and doesn’t have the resources to continue to fund them, what does that mean? We need to make sure that everybody can stay afloat and everybody is getting the essential services that they need.

Jumping topics, the $1,200 stimulus checks have gone out. Rent is coming up soon, is there any talk of further funding like that?

Yes. I sit on the Housing and Banking Committee, and I am working right now with my colleagues and ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on additional pieces of legislation to address the housing needs that we know are happening now and that will continue to occur.

We have just introduced and are calling for legislation to create a $75 billion housing assistance fund.

Is there anything else Nevadans should know?

Please don’t forget about the census. I know it’s a struggle. Many people are sheltering in place. It is so important that everybody fill out the census and be counted. Those resources, those federal dollars, come into our state based on the individual count here in Nevada. It is so important to get that federal money into Nevada and not leave anything on the table.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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