Public housing has been with us since the Great Depression.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal called for low-cost housing for the least advantaged.

It has often been said the true measure of a society is how it cares for its most vulnerable.

Providing a safety net — food, clothing, shelter and human dignity — to our poorest neighbors should not be viewed as a conservative or liberal act.

While federal entitlement programs will always be debated and often along party lines, basic housing should not be a political football.

America is not a third-world country and the poorest people in our nation should not be living in shanties or tent cities.

We are better than that.

We strongly believe a hand up is always better than a hand out, but putting a roof over the heads of a family is not frivolous government spending.

In a perfect world, and a perfect America, housing projects would not be needed.

It is not a perfect world.

We do not live in a perfect America.

An overhaul of the nation’s welfare systems may be in order.

We are not a socialist nation and are not heading in that direction.

Conservatism, however, does not mean to be without compassion.

More than 2 million Americans live in public housing and millions more receive federal government assistance to help pay their rent.

CNN Money reported that during confirmation hearings back in January, Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said it would be “‘cruel and unusual’ to do away with this assistance without a proper replacement in place.”

We agree with Carson.

As the economy grows, the burden on federal public housing should lessen, but the trickle down is slow, very slow.

In the meantime, people have to have a place to live.

The idea of a shrinking, less expensive, federal government is appealing. The idea of leaving the least fortunate Americans out in the cold is appalling.

We believe Mark Stalvey, executive director of the Valdosta Housing Authority, is right when he says that without public housing the working poor may not have any place to live as they are trying to improve their stations in life.

He said it best when he said, “If we were not here, we would be back to the pre-1950s and ‘60s to where we had folks living in squalor and less than sanitary housing conditions. We don’t want to move backwards.”

Even people living in what we call “the projects” are not living for free. Rent ranges from just a few dollars to about $450 a month.

The problem, locally, is that the inventory of public units is limited and at, or near, capacity.

Federal budget cuts could mean limits on how long a person can live in public housing, more stringent income guidelines and even a shrinking inventory as aging housing units are retired.

Non-profits, charitable organizations and philanthropists will have to help fill the void but even that will not be enough to serve the underserved with the most basic of human needs.

We strongly support the elimination of wasteful spending, cutting pork barrel projects and streamlining government. Slashing HUD services, especially for the elderly, disabled and working families with small children, however, seems less than humane, less than American.

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