Pam Fessler

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty and philanthropy.

In her reporting, Fessler covers homelessness, hunger, and the impact of the recession on the nation's less fortunate. She reports on non-profit groups, how they're trying to address poverty and other social issues, and how they've been affected by the economic downturn. Her poverty reporting was recognized by a 2011 First Place Headliner Award in the human interest category.

Previously, Fessler reported primarily on homeland security, including security at U.S. ports, airlines, and borders. She has also reported on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 Commission investigation, and such issues as Social Security and election reform. Fessler was also one of NPR's White House reporters during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Before becoming a correspondent, Fessler was the acting senior editor on the Washington Desk and oversaw the network's coverage of the impeachment of President Clinton and the 1998 mid-term elections. She was NPR's chief election editor in 1996, and coordinated all network coverage of the presidential, congressional, and state elections. Prior to that role, Fessler was the deputy Washington editor and Midwest National Desk editor.

Before coming to NPR in 1993, she was a senior writer at Congressional Quarterly magazine. Fessler worked at CQ for 13 years as both a reporter and editor, covering tax, budget, and other news. She also worked as a budget specialist at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and was a reporter at The Record newspaper in Hackensack, NJ.

Fessler has a Masters of Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree from Douglass College in New Jersey.

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6:16am

Wed April 2, 2014
Around the Nation

Finding A More Nuanced View Of Poverty's 'Black Hole'

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 1:04 pm

Ask Anne Valdez what poverty means for her, and her answer will describe much more than a simple lack of money.

"It's like being stuck in a black hole," says Valdez, 47, who is unemployed and trying to raise a teenage son in Coney Island, New York City. "Poverty is like literally being held back from enjoying life, almost to the point of not being able to breathe."

For years, researchers have complained that the way the government measures income and poverty is severely flawed, that it provides an incomplete — and even distorted — view.

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5:27pm

Thu March 27, 2014
Politics

Voting Rights Fight Takes New Direction

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 7:03 pm

An election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early-voting polling site in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay AP

It's that time again, when primary voters start casting their ballots for the midterm elections. As in recent years, voters face new rules and restrictions, including the need in 16 states to show a photo ID.

But this year, some voting rights activists say they're seeing a change — fewer new restrictions and, in some places, even a hint of bipartisanship.

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7:03pm

Thu March 13, 2014
The Salt

States' Rebellion Against Food Stamp Cuts Grows

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 1:41 pm

States are taking an out provided by Congress to avoid cutting food stamp benefits to families, many of whom already depend on food banks like the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, Calif.
Antonio Mena Courtesy of Alameda County Community Food Bank

When Congress passed a farm bill earlier this year, it expected to save $8.6 billion over 10 years by tightening what many say is a loophole in the food stamp, or SNAP, program. But it's not going to happen.

You see, Congress left states an opening to avoid the cuts. And so far, nearly half of the states participating have decided to take that option — a move that could erase the promised savings.

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4:22pm

Mon March 10, 2014
Europe

In Crimea, Public Relations Can Be As Dangerous As Politics

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 7:59 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Crimea votes this coming Sunday on whether to claim independence from Ukraine. Polls indicate the measure is sure to pass. But pro-Russian politicians are leaving nothing to chance. They've imposed a near total blackout on information from the government in Kiev.

And as NPR's Gregory Warner reports, volunteers are taking great risks to get that information into Crimea.

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4:22pm

Mon March 10, 2014
Your Money

Groups Use Cash Prizes To Encourage Saving

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 7:59 pm

Maya Gaines, of the Baltimore CASH Campaign, tries to encourage people to put aside some of their tax refunds into savings. She rings bells, cheers and dances every time someone decides to do that.
Pam Fessler NPR

When it comes to getting ahead in the world, a lack of savings can be a big hurdle, especially for low-income families. Most don't have enough money set aside for emergencies, let alone for college or a house. Some people think the answer is to make savings more fun, like the lottery, with the chance to win big prizes.

It's called prize-linked savings, something that's been available in Great Britain for decades. Now, it's starting to catch on in the United States.

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5:21am

Sun February 23, 2014
Fitness & Nutrition

Can Exercising Seniors Help Revive A Brooklyn Neighborhood?

Originally published on Sun February 23, 2014 11:57 am

Linda Beckford (right) exercises as part of a walking group that tries to make their neighborhood a better place to live. If nothing else, the seniors feel more confident about going outside.
Quoctrung Bui NPR

The Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., is known for many things, among them huge public housing projects, extremely high poverty and crime. Last summer, a one-year-old boy was shot in the head and killed as he sat in a stroller in the neighborhood.

But that's one side of life in Brownsville. Down the street from that murder, on weekday mornings, is another side.

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5:11pm

Wed February 12, 2014
It's All Politics

Election Panel: Long Lines Were Management Problem

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 8:48 pm

Robert Bauer (far left) and Benjamin Ginsberg (far right) are co-chairmen of the president's Commission on Election Administration, appointed to find solutions to election-related issues.
Carolyn Kaster AP

The commission President Obama appointed last year to figure out how to fix long lines at the polls and other election problems has sought to steer clear of the many partisan land mines surrounding how Americans vote.

The two co-chairmen of the panel continued to that navigation Wednesday as they presented their unanimous recommendations to the Senate Rules Committee.

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5:27pm

Wed January 22, 2014
Politics

Shorter Lines? For Elections Commission, It's Common Sense

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 8:01 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Remember the scenes of those endless voting lines in the 2012 presidential election? Some voters waited for six hours or more to cast their ballots. Well, now a presidential commission has come up with some ways to fix the problem. The panel, appointed by President Obama himself, suggests that more early voting and better voting technology would help. But, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, they're just recommendations.

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10:56am

Sat January 18, 2014
Reporter's Notebook

In Appalachia, Poverty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Originally published on Sat January 18, 2014 11:35 am

President Lyndon B. Johnson went to eastern Kentucky in 1964 to promote his War on Poverty. But when he did, he opened a wound that remains raw today. People in the region say they're tired of always being depicted as poor, so when NPR's Pam Fessler went to Appalachia to report on how the War on Poverty is going, she was warned that people would be reluctant to talk. Instead, she got an earful.

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5:40pm

Wed January 8, 2014
Economy

Coal-Mining Area Grapples With How To Keep 'Bright Young Minds'

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 10:29 pm

Colby Kirk of Inez, Ky., is a junior at the University of Kentucky, studying to be a financial analyst. He says there aren't many opportunities for college grads in his hometown.
Pam Fessler NPR

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson stood before Congress and declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America." His arsenal included new programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, food stamps, more spending on education and tax cuts to help create jobs.

In the coming year, NPR will explore the impact and extent of poverty in the U.S., and what can be done to reduce it.

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3:29am

Wed January 8, 2014
Economy

Kentucky County That Gave War On Poverty A Face Still Struggles

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 7:19 am

President Lyndon Johnson, on the porch of Tom Fletcher's cabin, listens to Fletcher describe some of the problems in Martin County, Ky., in 1964.
Bettmann Corbis

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson stood before Congress and declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America." His arsenal included new programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, food stamps, more spending on education, and tax cuts to help create jobs.

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5:03am

Wed December 4, 2013
Politics

Loophole Or Workaround? (Food Stamp Edition)

Originally published on Wed December 4, 2013 3:39 pm

Spencer Platt Getty Images

In the debate over whether to cut the food stamp program, members of Congress are looking at two pretty arcane provisions in the law. People who want to cut food stamps call the provisions loopholes. People who don't want to cut food stamps say they're efficient ways to get benefits to those who need them most.

1. Categorical Eligibility

People who qualify for one means-tested program — like welfare — can automatically qualify for other programs — like food stamps. This is called "categorical eligibility."

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3:04am

Wed November 6, 2013
Planet Money

I Applied For An Online Payday Loan. Here's What Happened Next

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 5:06 pm

eTaxLoan.com

Payday lenders made about $49 billion in high-interest loans last year. More than a third of those loans were made online. I wondered what happens when you apply for such a loan, so I decided to find out.

In the course of reporting a story earlier this year, I logged on to a site called eTaxLoan.com and filled out an application.

I asked for $500 and, to be safe, I made up an address, a name (Mary) and a Social Security number. The site asked for more sensitive stuff — a bank account number and a routing number — and I made that up, too.

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4:44pm

Mon September 16, 2013
Planet Money

The Poverty Rate Ignores Programs That Fight Poverty

Originally published on Mon September 16, 2013 6:49 pm

Ann Valdez lives with her teenage son in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Pam Fessler / NPR

New U.S. poverty numbers come out on Tuesday. But what, exactly, do those numbers measure?

Consider the case of Ann Valdez. She's a 47-year-old single mom who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn with her teenage son. She doesn't have a job. She gets a cash payment of about $130 every two weeks from the government. That's all that's counted for her income in the government's poverty measure.

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12:16am

Tue August 27, 2013
Planet Money

A College Kid, A Single Mom, And The Problem With The Poverty Line

Originally published on Tue August 27, 2013 5:02 am

Marion Matthew is a home health aide supporting herself and her 17-year-old son.
Pam Fessler NPR

The College Kid

Rico Saccoccio is a junior at Fordham University in the Bronx. He's from a middle-class family in Connecticut and he spent the summer living at home with his parents, who cover about $15,000 a year in his college costs.

According to the U.S. government, Saccoccio is living in poverty. The $8,000 he earns doing odd jobs puts him well below the $11,945 poverty threshold for an individual. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that more than half of all college students who are living off campus and not at home are poor.

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6:38am

Sat July 27, 2013
The Salt

Tucson Food Bank Helps The Needy Grow Their Own Food

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 10:15 pm

Food bank client Jamie Senik takes a break near her garden plot sponsored by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. She grows food for herself and her diabetic mother.
Pam Fessler NPR

Food banks around the country face growing demand, despite improvements in the economy. Many families are still underemployed and struggling. So some food banks are looking for more permanent ways to address hunger, beyond handing out food.

One of them is the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, based in Tucson. Among the many programs it runs is Las Milpitas de Cottonwood, a community farm located in one of the city's lower-income neighborhoods.

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3:48pm

Tue July 23, 2013
The Salt

Howard Buffett Battles Hunger, Armed With Money And Science

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 11:12 am

Buffett in a pinto bean field on the Arizona farm, where he grew 60,000 pounds of beans for a Tucson food bank in 2012. Another goal of Buffett's research farm is to find better crops for poor subsistence farmers.
Nick Oza for NPR

Get Howard Buffett into the cab of a big ole' farm tractor and he's like a kid — albeit a 58-year-old, gray-haired one. He's especially excited when it comes to the tractor's elaborate GPS system, which he describes as "very cool."

"I'm driving hands-free," says Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

He says that the tractor has been automatically set to plant 16 perfect rows of seeds, "so it makes everything more efficient. And it's going to give you a better crop in the end."

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4:51pm

Tue June 11, 2013
Social Entrepreneurs: Taking On World Problems

Can Federal Funds Help Social Service Groups Work Smarter?

Originally published on Tue June 11, 2013 6:20 pm

Jasmine Chestnut at her internship at the Center for American Progress in Washington. An at-risk student, Chestnut had almost given up on college when a nonprofit network supported by the government's Social Innovation Fund helped her get back on track.
Gabriella Demczuk NPR

When President Obama first took office in 2009, he had an idea called the Social Innovation Fund.

"We're going to use this fund to find the most promising nonprofits in America," he said when announcing the plan. "We'll examine their data and rigorously evaluate their outcomes. We'll invest in those with the best results that are the most likely to provide a good return on our taxpayer dollars."

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5:55am

Sat May 25, 2013
The Deadly Tornado In Moore, Okla.

'Please, No More Clothes': Relief Groups Ask For Cash

Originally published on Sat May 25, 2013 4:38 pm

Relief agencies like the American Red Cross say monetary donations give them the greatest flexibility to address victims' needs.
Erik Lesser EPA/Landov

The tornado that devastated much of Moore, Okla., has drawn loads of donations from across the country: food, clothing, medical supplies, toys. Much of it is needed by the victims, but not everything.

After every disaster, relief groups usually ask for one thing: money. But writing a check or texting a donation isn't always that satisfying for those who want so desperately to help.

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8:26am

Wed May 22, 2013
Politics

House, Senate Consider Cuts In Food Stamp Program

Originally published on Wed May 22, 2013 9:29 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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3:07am

Mon May 20, 2013
Around the Nation

Advocates Struggle To Reach Growing Ranks Of Suburban Poor

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 2:30 pm

TD Bank volunteers sort donated food into barrels at the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg in Montgomery County, Md. Poverty in the county just outside Washington, D.C., has grown by two-thirds since 2007.
Gabriella Demczuk NPR

Poverty has grown everywhere in the U.S. in recent years, but mostly in the suburbs. During the 2000s, it grew twice as fast in suburban areas as in cities, with more than 16 million poor people now living in the nation's suburbs — more than in urban or rural areas.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, says this shift in poverty can be seen in Montgomery County, Md., right outside the nation's capital.

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3:56pm

Tue April 30, 2013
The Sequester: Cuts And Consequences

Sequester Puts Some Needing Housing Aid 'Back To Square One'

Originally published on Tue April 30, 2013 8:01 pm

Roger Bottomley of Fairfax, Va., has been homeless for 10 years. He expected to get a housing voucher, but then his appointment with the local housing authority was canceled because of sequestration. He keeps his belongings in a locker at a homeless day center.
Pam Fessler NPR

Congress decided last week to ease the effects of the across-the-board federal spending cuts on travelers upset over airport delays. But low-income Americans who rely on government housing aid are still feeling the pain.

Housing authorities across the country have all but stopped issuing rent vouchers as they try to deal with the cuts known as sequestration. Many newly issued vouchers have been rescinded, leaving some people homeless or doubled up with family and friends.

And the cuts come at a time when there's a severe shortage of affordable housing across the country.

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5:46pm

Tue April 16, 2013
Around the Nation

Changes Help San Diego Homeless, But Long Road Remains Ahead

Originally published on Tue April 23, 2013 3:05 pm

Wanda Rayborn, 63, was homeless for nine years and was living under a tree in downtown San Diego two years ago. She now lives in a newly renovated efficiency apartment — part of an initiative to help get homeless people off the streets.
Pam Fessler NPR

Two years ago, we reported on an ambitious campaign to end homelessness in downtown San Diego, a city with one of the largest homeless populations in the nation. The effort involved an unprecedented coalition of business leaders, community groups and government agencies.

At the time, some advocates for the homeless — after years of seeing other, failed efforts to get people off city streets — were skeptical that the campaign would amount to much.

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3:54pm

Thu March 28, 2013
It's All Politics

Obama Forms Presidential Commission To Study Voting Problems

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 4:30 pm

Voters line up into the night outside a Miami polling station, some waiting for hours to vote in the 2012 presidential election.
Wilfredo Lee AP

President Obama has established a new bipartisan commission on election administration, something he promised to do in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address. He signed an executive order Thursday making it official.

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3:15am

Mon March 25, 2013
Around the Nation

Free Tax Help Protects Low-Income Filers From Pricey Loans

Originally published on Mon March 25, 2013 9:50 am

iStockphoto.com

As this year's tax deadline approaches, hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans are relying on free services to help them with their returns.

Tax preparation fees — even a few hundred dollars — can be a burden for those living on the margins. And taxpayers desperate for cash can fall prey to high-cost loan offers that eat into their refunds

At the free tax-preparation site at the main library in Washington, D.C., about 30 taxpayers wait for help from volunteers.

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4:58pm

Wed March 13, 2013
Around the Nation

Health Problems Compound For Aging Homeless

Originally published on Wed March 13, 2013 8:27 pm

Tony Lithgow, 49, and Andrea Mayer, 51, live together on the streets of Baltimore. Researchers say the aging homeless population is due to younger baby boomers who came of age during the 1970s and '80s, when there were back-to-back recessions.
Kainaz Amaria NPR

Tony Lithgow and Andrea Mayer have been living under a highway overpass in downtown Baltimore since last year. He's 49 and has been homeless on and off for eight years. She's 51 and has been homeless for 10 years.

Living on the streets has clearly taken a toll on the couple, both physically and mentally. While they're standing at a corner waiting for a free city bus to take them to a soup kitchen, Tony shouts at a passenger staring at them from a car stopped at the light.

"We're homeless!" he calls out to the man.

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4:24am

Wed March 13, 2013
Health Care

'We Shouldn't Have To Live Like This'

Originally published on Thu March 14, 2013 12:05 pm

Linwood Hearne, 64, and his wife, Evelyn, 47, stand near Interstate 83 in Baltimore where they have slept on and off for the past four years. According to the local nonprofit Health Care for the Homeless (HCH), a growing percentage of homeless patients nationally are 50 or older, with complex mental and physical conditions.
Kainaz Amaria NPR

If aging is not for sissies, that's especially true if you're homeless. You can be on your feet for hours, or forced to sleep in the frigid cold or seriously ill with no place to go. But, increasingly, the nation's homeless population is getting older. By some estimates, more than half of single homeless adults are 47 or older.

And there's growing alarm about what this means — both for the aging homeless and for those who have to foot the bill. The cost to society, especially for health care and social services, could mushroom.

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6:19pm

Tue February 26, 2013
The Sequester: Cuts And Consequences

Advocates Warn Sequester Could Mean Big Cuts For The Low-Income

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 7:05 pm

A nutrition specialist prepares a Meals on Wheels delivery in upstate New York. The national organization says the sequester could mean significant cuts in the number of meals they serve to homebound seniors.
John Moore Getty Images

Many programs affecting low-income Americans — like food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — are exempt from across-the-board spending cuts set to go into effect March 1.

But many other programs are not, and that has service providers scrambling to figure out how the budget stalemate in Washington might affect those who rely on government aid.

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3:11pm

Fri February 15, 2013
It's All Politics

President's New Voting Commission Greeted With Skepticism

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 4:18 pm

Lines of voters wait to cast their ballots as the polls open in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Nov. 6.
Edward Linsmier Getty Images

One of the more memorable moments in President Obama's State of the Union address this week was his introduction of an elderly woman sitting in the House gallery. The president said that Desiline Victor had to wait three hours last year to vote in North Miami.

"Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line to support her," Obama said. "[Because] Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, 'I Voted.' "

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3:45am

Tue February 12, 2013
It's All Politics

Fixing Long Lines At The Polls May Be Harder Than You Think

Originally published on Tue February 12, 2013 5:00 am

Minutes after he was re-elected in November, President Obama vowed to fix the long lines that many voters faced at the polls. He mentioned the problem again in his inaugural address. And now, the president is expected to raise it once more in the State of the Union address on Tuesday — this time with some possible solutions.

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