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With COVID-19 on the rise, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray wants paid sick leave for everyone

caption: Patty Murray in the KUOW studios on Jan. 5, 2016.
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Patty Murray in the KUOW studios on Jan. 5, 2016.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a bill that guarantees free coronavirus testing for all Americans and expands paid sick leave for some workers.

But it doesn't cover everyone, including people who work for companies with more than 500 employees, as well as people who work for smaller companies that employ less than 50 people.

United States Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is proposing a bill that would expand paid sick leave to all workers.

The law would provide people 14 paid sick days and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Murray said she's happy that Congress is providing relief, but more needs to be done.

The following interview with Patty Murray, as-told-to KUOW, has been lightly edited for clarity.

Recovering from the economic impact of COVID-19

Well, first, let me say this next step is really critical because we have to make sure that people have that basic safety net at home; that they know that they're going to get a paycheck; that they know that they'll be able to have their job when the economy starts moving again; that they can survive through this and their kids can survive through this.

We're all at home right now. So, that basic infrastructure — and that means money, and it's going to be significant, and it has to be large —needs to happen quickly. Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader, promised that, and sadly, he's not reaching out to Democrats in the House and Senate for our ideas at this point. He's going to need our votes at the end.

And we have made it clear that a broad package can't just be payouts to the top corporations right now to survive this. This has to be the goal of two things: stop the spread of this virus, put in place the resources and the support to stop the virus. And secondly, to make sure that people can get through this, and those people at the bottom are the folks we really need to be helping.

Up to $3,000 in direct payments for U.S. families

As of yet, we have not seen the actual details of how [the Trump administration] would do this — who would get it, how it would be implemented, what would trigger it? And those are all really important questions. I think there's several ways to make sure that people can get through this time.

If they have to be home because their school is closed or their businesses closed, or if for some reason, the small business they work at as a restaurant that has been closed. I mean, there's a lot of reasons people are at home struggling right now.

And that basic infrastructure to make sure they get a paycheck while they're home. To make sure they are whole as we make our way through there, can be done in a number of different ways. And I'm going to look at the White House proposal. It hasn't come to us yet, but we're looking at several different ways to make that happen.

I have been frustrated, angry, for several months now that this administration has downplayed what could have happened to us and has now happened. They have dismissed it they have not taken as seriously and the agencies that they run, whether it's Centers for Disease Control, or FDA, or all these agencies who are in charge of making sure our public health infrastructure are ready, didn't respond adequately or fast.

And we're there now. And this is critical. As I've said so many times in the past two months, tests are critical so you can make a decision about yourself about staying home. Tests are also knowledge. The knowledge of testing helps school districts make decisions, helps business make decision. Because we have not had accurate counts and accurate testing, we are now taking drastic risks that could well be right, but we don't know that factually.

And finally, when we get out of this, we need to know what actually happened, who was impacted, how long it took them to get it, to make sure that as we move forward on vaccines and how we deal with this going to the future we have real facts.

I was just on the phone this morning with the top people in the agencies and I will tell you from my phone calls this morning, we are behind. I've heard everything from states are on their own on this, there is adequate provisions out there, people who need it are getting it, and that is not true.

So, I'm going to stay on top of this. I am yelling at everybody I can. We've got to step this up and we've got to step it up yesterday.

The Trump administration's response to the coronavirus

Well for one thing, they need to act with the urgency that this crisis has really engendered in all of us. They have not done that since the beginning. Starting to come around and having daily press conferences, but they can't just be patting each other on the back.

It should be pushing and making sure that all that we can do, whether it's our Department of Defense or our Health and Human Services or our private sector, or whoever can be at the table right now is doing what they need, and they need to do it with a sense of urgency.

Coping through the national COVID-19 emergency

I was thinking about that just the other day because I was here in the nation's capital during 911, and I was here during the downturn in the economy when we had a severe economic crisis. And the actions that we took at that time, were really important because Democrats and Republicans sat in one room during both of those and said, 'what do we need to do collectively to get this done?' I am really concerned because that is not happening during this crisis.

Mitch McConnell is on his own saying Republicans are going to write a bill. Why are we not in a room with the urgency that we need? Why is the White House not in that room with us? Where is that collective American feeling that we are a country that needs to get through this? So, I am really pushing colleagues on both sides of the aisle to sense that and feel it. But this is a leadership issue from the top down, and I think it should concern all of us.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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