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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5:14pm

Wed July 23, 2014
The Salt

Summer Program For Hungry Kids Gets Creative With Food Delivery

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 4:49 pm

Logan Kovach, 6, Matthew Kovach, 2, and Allyson Kovach, 5, eat a lunch distributed by the YMCA in Hopkins County, Kentucky.
Pam Fessler NPR

More than 21 million children get free or reduced priced meals during the school year. But in the summer, that number drops to only three million.

The big question is what happens to all the other children. Do they get enough, and the right food, to eat?

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3:28am

Mon July 14, 2014
Law

How Banning One Question Could Help Ex-Offenders Land A Job

Originally published on Wed July 16, 2014 7:40 pm

Sherman Justice says he struggled when he got out of prison after serving time for robbery and drug trafficking.
Pam Fessler NPR

Washington, D.C., is expected to join four states and several cities soon in prohibiting companies from asking job applicants — up front — if they have a criminal record.

It's part of a growing movement called Ban the Box, a reference to that box on a job application form that asks, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"

Advocates for the laws say having to check the box prevents many ex-offenders from getting a fair shot at a job.

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5:10pm

Wed June 11, 2014
Economy

A Campaign To House The Homeless Reaches A Milestone

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 6:24 pm

Mallyveen Teah relaxes in his Arlington, Va., apartment after work.
Pam Fessler NPR

Mallyveen Teah, 53, has been homeless or couch surfing on and off for the past 25 years. Now, he walks from his job at a construction site in Arlington, Va., to his new home, a one-bedroom apartment.

"Something as simple as giving a person a set of keys to their own place makes a huge difference in terms of their outlook on life, the world," he says.

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5:30pm

Thu May 29, 2014
The Salt

Economic Upswing Has Fewer Americans Receiving Food Stamps

Originally published on Thu May 29, 2014 7:11 pm

A woman and her daughter shop at a Greenmarket in New York City using Electronic Benefits Transfer, or food stamps. Government data show that fewer people were receiving the benefits in February 2014 than at the peak in December 2012.
Andrew Burton Getty Images

Critics of the food stamp program have been alarmed in recent years by its rapid growth. Last year, about 1 in 7 people in the U.S. received food stamps, or SNAP benefits, as they're called. That's almost 48 million people, a record high.

But the numbers have started to drop. In February, the last month for which figures were available, 1.6 million fewer people received food stamps than at the peak in December 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program.

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3:23am

Tue May 27, 2014
U.S.

Lack Of Affordable Housing Puts The Squeeze On Poor Families

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 5:02 pm

Toni Smart points to the oven that she uses to heat her one-bedroom apartment, which has no heat. Smart says she and her kids stayed in homeless shelters a few years ago. She says she'd rather be without heat than in the shelter.
Pam Fessler NPR

The U.S. is in the midst of what Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan calls the "worst rental affordability crisis" ever. Poor families are being hit the hardest: An overwhelming majority spend more than half of their incomes on rent. Others live in substandard housing, or are homeless.

The problem is especially acute in Washington, D.C., in a bustling neighborhood just a few blocks from the Capitol Building.

A Tale Of Two Cities

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7:41am

Sun May 18, 2014
Around the Nation

Poverty, A Frustrating Mix Of Bad Choices And Bad Luck

Originally published on Sun May 18, 2014 11:43 am

Stories about poverty can evoke strong reactions, in part because Americans are conflicted about the topic. Both bad circumstances and bad choices can be the cause.

5:11pm

Wed May 7, 2014
War On Poverty, 50 Years Later

One Family's Story Shows How The Cycle Of Poverty Is Hard To Break

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 9:59 am

Desiree Metcalf, here with one of her three daughters, is one of many poor Americans who find themselves trapped in a system meant to help.
Pam Fessler NPR

Desiree Metcalf's story is heartbreaking, but among the 46 million Americans who are poor today, her story is not unique.

Metcalf is 24 years old.

She's the mother of three little girls — ages 6, 4 and 2. They all have different fathers.

"That about sums me up, I think," she says.

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3:34am

Wed May 7, 2014
War On Poverty, 50 Years Later

The Changing Picture Of Poverty: Hard Work Is 'Just Not Enough'

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 5:27 pm

Victoria Houser of Painted Post, N.Y., is raising her son, Brayden, on her own. She says she feels stuck in a never-ending cycle, constantly worried that one financial emergency will send everything tumbling down.
Pam Fessler NPR

There are 46 million poor people in the U.S., and millions more hover right above the poverty line — but go into many of their homes, and you might find a flat-screen TV, a computer or the latest sneakers.

And that raises a question: What does it mean to be poor in America today?

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4:03pm

Tue May 6, 2014
Code Switch

As States Vote In Primaries, Voter ID Laws Come Under Scrutiny

Originally published on Tue May 6, 2014 9:04 pm

An Arkansas voter enters an early-voting polling place on May 5.
Danny Johnston AP

Three states are holding primaries Tuesday, and voters might understandably be confused over what kind of identification they need to show at the polls.

In Indiana, it has to be a government-issued photo ID. In Ohio, you can get by with a utility bill. In North Carolina, you won't need a photo ID until 2016. But that law, along with ID laws in many other states, faces an uncertain future.

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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 April 28, 2014 2:16 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 Mon April 28, 2014 2:21 pm

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 Mon April 28, 2014 2:23 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 Mon April 28, 2014 2:31 pm

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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