Children didn’t crash the U.S. economy. They’re not the ones who should be paying the price to fix it. But they are.

Across the nation, scores of states, in response to sharply declining revenues, are cutting billions of dollars for proven health, education and safety programs which benefit children.

In more than 40 years of working on children’s issues, locally and nationally, I have never witnessed such large scale and indiscriminate budget slashing as has occurred in the last two years. And economic forecasts suggest that it may be two years or more before the states pull out of their slump, guaranteeing that harmful cuts will continue — unless temporary and targeted relief is provided. And that’s something that only our national government has the capacity to do.

That’s why Congress cannot abdicate its responsibility to America’s children; yet last week, the Senate could not move to final passage of the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act — a bill that would greatly help Maine children. Already adopted by the House, the bill is meant to stimulate the economy and provide jobs. But equally important, it also includes a six-month extension of a higher-than-usual federal reimbursement rate — known as FMAP — for the state’s Medicaid program, providing some $85 million in relief to Maine’s budget deficit.

Altogether, that jobs bill would invest in Maine’s children by paying for health care, providing summer jobs for out-of-school youth, extending unemployment insurance for struggling families, creating jobs and, generally, helping to maintain a safety net that is rapidly coming undone.

So far, the Senate has failed to reach the needed super-majority vote required for an up or down vote, setting the stage for tens of billions of dollars in additional state-level cuts in children’s programs in Maine and nationally unless the Senate acts.

Maine’s two centrist senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, can play a decisive role in moving federal legislation to provide relief to the states. They have the best voting record on children’s issues among all GOP senators. Time and again they have crossed party lines and voted for what they deemed to be in the best interests of Maine’s children.

It’s time to do it again.

Whatever the differences between Snowe and Collins with the White House and their Senate colleagues, it’s time to find enough common ground — starting with the best interests of Maine’s children — to forge a bill that can contribute to our slowly improving economic recovery.

Without a bill being adopted prior to July 1, states everywhere, including Maine, will begin implementing harsh new budget cuts, which inevitably will harm the children we cherish.

They deserve better.

Mike Petit is the president of the Every Child Matters Education Fund, a national children’s advocacy organization. He was commissioner of the Maine Department of Human Services during the administration of former Gov. Joseph E. Brennan.

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