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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5:15pm

Wed July 11, 2012
Poverty In America: The Struggle To Get Ahead

To Beat Odds, Poor Single Moms Need Wide Safety Net

Originally published on Fri July 13, 2012 6:51 pm

Shyanne (left) holds 1-year-old Makai, as Stepp checks to see if all of Shyanne's homework has been completed.
Kainaz Amaria NPR

Single mothers have an especially hard time getting out of poverty. Households headed by single mothers are four times as likely to be poor as are families headed by married couples.

Still, many of these women are trying to get ahead. Some know instinctively what the studies show: Children who grow up in poor families are far more likely to become poor adults.

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3:42pm

Tue July 10, 2012
Poverty In America

Cycle Of Poverty Hard To Break In Poorest U.S. City

Originally published on Tue July 10, 2012 11:31 pm

Devora Trapp, 24, picks up her 8-month-old son, Dardarius Taylor, late one evening at the Opportunity House's Second Street Learning Center, a 24-hour day care center for low-income families in Reading, Pa.
Kainaz Amaria NPR

In the middle of the night, most children are home in bed. But at the Second Street Learning Center in Reading, Pa., a half-dozen tiny bodies are curled up on green plastic floor mats, fast asleep.

Conversations are hushed. The lights are dim. At 1:30 a.m., day care worker Virginia Allen gently shakes two little sisters, snuggled under the same blanket, to tell them that their mother is there to pick them up.

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5:35pm

Tue June 12, 2012
It's All Politics

Justice Department Sues Florida As Voter Battle Intensifies

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 8:02 pm

A Republican primary voter walks to her polling precinct in January in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice sued Florida on Tuesday to stop it from trying to remove noncitizens from its voter registration rolls.

The department says the way the state is going about doing this violates federal law. Florida says it's partly the federal government's fault for not sharing citizenship data with the state.

It's all part of the escalating battle between the Obama administration and Republican-led states over voting laws.

Read more

5:29am

Fri June 1, 2012
Around the Nation

Komen Donations Down After Planned Parenthood Dispute

Originally published on Fri June 1, 2012 9:04 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure takes place tomorrow here in the nation's capital. It's one of the breast cancer charity's biggest fundraisers. But this year, participation is way down. That follows Komen's controversial decision in February to stop funding Planned Parenthood programs. The decision was quickly reversed, but Komen's supporters worry about the long-term impact, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

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6:33am

Thu May 31, 2012
Around the Nation

Black Voters Feel Targeted By Election Restrictions

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And the disputes over voter eligibility extend well beyond Florida. New voter ID laws, and other voting restrictions, have been enacted in a number of states since the last major election. And that has raised special concern among African-Americans, who feel they are being targeted.

Black church leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus met yesterday here in Washington, D.C., to discuss how to make sure African-American voters aren't discouraged from turning out in November.

Here's NPR's Pam Fessler.

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4:07pm

Fri May 18, 2012
It's All Politics

Haven't Registered To Vote Yet? They're Coming For You

Originally published on Fri May 18, 2012 6:34 pm

If you're eligible to vote but aren't registered yet, watch out. They're coming to get you!

Campaigns, political parties and interest groups are all mounting massive voter registration campaigns this year to influence the outcome of the November elections.

The target is the millions of Americans — the Pew Center on the States estimates that number is 51 million — who are eligible to vote but not registered. The belief is that even a relative few of these voters could swing the election results.

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2:53pm

Tue May 1, 2012
The Two-Way

After Helping A Homeless Vet, An Unexpected Holiday Card

Originally published on Tue May 1, 2012 3:41 pm

Veteran James Brown relaxes in his apartment, which he recently moved into after spending decades on the streets.
Pam Fessler NPR

A recent NPR story about homeless veterans brought a remarkable email from listener Gary Bressick, who runs an insurance agency in Los Angeles. The story focused on one veteran, James Brown, who had just moved into his first apartment after living on the streets for most of the previous three decades.

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3:19am

Mon April 16, 2012
Around the Nation

A Push To Help U.S. Veterans Fight Homelessness

Originally published on Mon April 16, 2012 9:54 am

Veteran James Brown relaxes in his apartment, which he recently moved into after spending decades on the streets.
Pam Fessler NPR

Last year, the number of homeless U.S. veterans on a given night dropped 12 percent from the year before. But tens of thousands were still on the streets, and more could be joining them as troops return from Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama has vowed to end veterans' homelessness by 2015.

Homeless No More

James Brown left the Army in 1979. And for most of the next 32 years, he lived on the streets in and around Los Angeles. You might have seen him: the dirty, disheveled guy trying to keep warm in a cardboard box.

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5:18pm

Tue March 13, 2012
Election 2012

Tea Party Spawns New Effort Against Voter Fraud

Originally published on Thu March 15, 2012 1:44 pm

Reagan George is the founder of the Virginia Voters Alliance.
Pam Fessler NPR

As part of a new campaign, dozens of citizen groups around the country are searching voter registration lists, looking for problems.

They're also training poll watchers to monitor this fall's elections.

Leaders of the effort — spawned by the Tea Party movement — say they want to make sure that elections are free from voter fraud. But critics say it's part of a campaign to suppress the votes of minorities, students and others who tend to vote Democratic.

Read more

11:36am

Mon March 12, 2012
It's All Politics

Texas Voter ID Law Blocked By Justice Department

Originally published on Mon March 12, 2012 6:31 pm

The U.S. Department of Justice has blocked a new voter ID law from going into effect in Texas. The department says the state failed to show that the law would not deny or limit minorities' right to vote. It's the second state voter ID law the department has blocked.

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5:33pm

Thu March 8, 2012
U.S.

House Committee Urges Action On Food Stamp Fraud

Originally published on Thu March 8, 2012 6:11 pm

One USDA official credits the use of plastic benefit cards with helping to reduce federal food stamp fraud. But lawmakers say that isn't enough.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

12:01am

Fri March 2, 2012
Governing

Shrinking Community Grants Put Cities In A Crunch

Originally published on Fri March 2, 2012 6:24 am

Budget cuts approved by Congress in the past two years are trickling down to local communities, and officials there are not happy. They say that reductions in community development block grants will hurt the nation's most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Two years ago, the federal government gave out about $4 billion in such grants to low- and moderate-income communities. This year, the figure is $3 billion — a 25 percent cut. And as that pie has shrunk, those whose slices have shrunk even more are hungry for answers.

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3:54pm

Thu February 23, 2012
It's All Politics

Voter ID Backer, Opponent Agree On One Point: Voter Rolls Are A Mess

There are few people further apart on the issue of new voter photo ID requirements than Laura Murphy and Hans von Spakovsky.

She's director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. He's with the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department official under George W. Bush.

So when the two went head-to-head Thursday on the issue at the National Press Club in Washington DC, there were a few sparks.

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2:13pm

Thu February 23, 2012
It's All Politics

In South Carolina, New Report Finds No Evidence Of "Dead" Voters

The South Carolina State Election Commission has just released its initial review of allegations from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles that more than 950 deceased voters appeared to have ballots cast in their names after they died. And no surprise, the commission found that of the 207 cases reviewed, there was no evidence in 197 of them that fraudulent votes had been cast. The commission said that records in the other 10 cases were "insufficient to make a determination."

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12:05am

Tue February 14, 2012
Election 2012

Study: 1.8 Million Dead People Still Registered To Vote

Originally published on Tue February 14, 2012 8:46 am

A sign at the Feb. 4 Nevada caucuses in Las Vegas.
Ethan Miller Getty Images

Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much. But they do agree that voter registration lists across the country are a mess.

A new report by the Pew Center on the States finds that more than 1.8 million dead people are currently registered to vote. And 24 million registrations are either invalid or inaccurate.

There's little evidence that this has led to widespread voter fraud, but it has raised concerns that the system is vulnerable.

Read more

5:36pm

Tue February 7, 2012
It's All Politics

In South Carolina, Dead-Voter Fraud Doesn't Quite Live Up To Suspicions

South Carolina's suit against the Department of Justice over the state's new voter ID law comes amid a big to-do in the state over whether hundreds of "dead" voters cast ballots in past elections.

The issue has been used by ID supporters as evidence that voter fraud in the state is a serious problem. But it looks as though that's not going to turn out to be the case.

Read more

4:00am

Mon February 6, 2012
Around the Nation

Komen Foundation Struggles To Lure Back Donors

Originally published on Thu February 9, 2012 2:07 pm

Aurora Jewell, Mandi Moshay and Kirsten Dees (left to right) hold up signs following a press conference by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) outside at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Seattle, on Feb. 3.
Stephen Brashear Getty Images

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation is facing a fight to keep controversy from undermining its fundraising efforts.

After announcing that it would withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood screening programs last week — and then reversing that decision three days later — the foundation now faces the challenging task of repairing its image and trying to lure back disillusioned donors.

One of the nation's largest breast cancer charities, the foundation spends tens of millions of dollars annually on breast cancer research, education and screening.

Read more

5:09pm

Wed January 18, 2012
It's All Politics

In Former Steel Town, Residents Question GOP Candidates' 'Entitlement Society' Talk

Originally published on Wed January 18, 2012 7:27 pm

Almost every office building in downtown McKeesport, Pa., is abandoned or boarded up. Since the departure of the steel industry, the city's population has dropped from 55,000 to 19,000.
Pam Fessler NPR

Republican presidential candidates have had some harsh words about the role of government aid in the Obama administration.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls President Obama the "food stamp president" and says more people are on food stamps than ever before because of his policies.

Read more

12:01pm

Tue December 20, 2011
Election 2012

In Iowa, The Final GOP Ground Game Takes Shape

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:11 am

A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry passes out stickers on Dec. 16 in Cherokee, Iowa.
Scott Olson Getty Images

Two weeks from Tuesday, Iowa voters will head out to almost 1,800 caucus sites to help select a Republican presidential nominee. It could be cold. It could also be snowing. And the campaigns know they'll have to work hard to make sure their supporters show up. Those get-out-the-vote efforts could make all the difference in a race that now appears to be up for grabs.

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5:26pm

Mon December 5, 2011
Politics

Maryland Case May Dissuade Political Dirty Tricks

A little-noticed trial in Maryland could affect how many dirty tricks voters will see in the upcoming elections — things like anonymous fliers or phone calls telling people to vote on the wrong day, or in the wrong precinct, or that they can't vote at all if they have an outstanding parking ticket.

The tactics are often illegal, but it's rare for anyone to get caught, let alone end up in court.

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5:15pm

Mon November 7, 2011
U.S.

New Measure Shows Higher Poverty Rate In U.S.

Originally published on Mon November 7, 2011 8:04 pm

Joseph Byrd, unemployed and living on disability, prepares to pick up groceries at the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger food pantry in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2010. The new experimental poverty measure takes into account cost of living associated with geographic differences.
Bebeto Matthews AP

The government released a new experimental poverty measure Monday that found that the poverty rate was 16 percent last year — slightly higher than previously thought.

The new measure won't replace the official one, but it is an effort to get a more accurate picture of who is and isn't poor.

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11:00am

Wed November 2, 2011
Politics

In Voter ID Debate, A Few Go Against Party Lines

Originally published on Wed November 2, 2011 6:42 pm

Former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama is in favor of voter ID laws. He says that over the years there have been numerous allegations of absentee voter fraud — and even a handful of convictions — in Alabama.
Dave Martin AP

The debate over requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls has been a heated one. Democrats accuse Republicans, who support such laws, of wanting to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly and the poor. Republicans accuse Democrats, who oppose ID rules, of condoning voter fraud.

It's a sharp partisan divide. But a few people have gone against the tide — and they're getting some political heat for doing so.

A Democrat Criticized For Fraud Concerns

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12:09pm

Mon October 24, 2011
Politics

A Push To Register New Voters Reaches Behind Bars

Originally published on Tue October 25, 2011 6:50 am

Dr. Brenda Williams, right, with her husband, Dr. Joe Williams, in their Sumter, S.C. medical clinic. The two routinely register their patients to vote. Brenda also seeks out new voters at the county jail.

Pam Fessler NPR

Tens of millions of Americans who are eligible to vote are not registered. So before every big election there's a flurry of activity to sign them up.

One South Carolina woman is passionate about registering those who others might ignore. Dr. Brenda Williams, a physician in Sumter, S.C., regularly visits the county jail to sign up inmates.

Williams says it's important for them to become part of the community after they're released. She thinks this will make them less likely to end up back behind bars.

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2:53pm

Wed October 19, 2011
Politics

Opponents Say S.C.'s Voting Law Unfair For The Poor

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Sharecropper Willie Blair (left) of Sumter, S.C., has used that name all his life, and it was on his Social Security card. But his birth certificate says "Willie Lee McCoy." Blair never went to school and is illiterate. His cousin Raymond Evans (right) tried to help him get an ID so Blair could vote; but Evans says it was a frustrating process.

Pam Fessler NPR

South Carolina is one of several states that passed laws this year requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. The South Carolina measure still needs approval from the U.S. Justice Department to ensure that it doesn't discriminate against certain voters.

Voting rights advocates say the requirement will be a big burden for some, especially the elderly and the poor, who can have a difficult time getting a photo ID — even in this day and age.

The Bureaucratic Maze

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4:30am

Mon September 26, 2011
Election 2012

Voters May Face Slower Lines In 2012 Elections

Elections are expensive. And with money tight, election offices across the country are facing cutbacks.

This means voters could be in for some surprises — such as longer lines and fewer voting options — when they turn out for next year's primary and general elections.

A lot of decisions about the 2012 elections are being made today. How many voting machines are needed? Where should polling places be located? How many poll workers have to be hired?

'We're Down To A Critical Level'

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12:01am

Fri September 16, 2011
Economy

New Programs Aim To Close The Wealth Gap

Originally published on Sun September 18, 2011 6:55 pm

With the help of a San Francisco nonprofit, Helena Edwards was able to buy a home. The group helped her set up a matched savings account and also gave her financial advice.
Pam Fessler NPR

Part two of a two-part report.

The gap in the wealth of white families and what's owned by blacks and Hispanics has widened in recent years. Researchers say it will widen even more unless steps are taken to break what's become a vicious cycle — the rich getting richer and the poor struggling to keep from falling further behind.

The city of San Francisco is taking one step to help even the playing field. Children entering the city's kindergartens are getting their own college savings accounts.

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12:01am

Thu September 15, 2011
Economy

Making It In The U.S.: More Than Just Hard Work

Dametra Williams (right) says she thinks her daughter, Yvonne, 18, (left) is going into the world with the head start she never had.
Pam Fessler NPR

First of a two-part report.

Here's a startling figure: The typical white family has 20 times the wealth of the median black family. That's the largest gap in 25 years. The recession widened the racial wealth gap, but experts say it's also due to deeply ingrained differences in things such as inheritance, home ownership, taxes and even expectations.

Read more

4:00am

Wed September 14, 2011
Economy

Census Bureau: Poverty Rate Rises Past 2009 Level

The nation's overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent last year, according to new data from the Census Bureau. That's up from 14.3 percent in 2009 — which means 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010.

5:56pm

Tue September 13, 2011
Economy

Census: 2010 Saw Poverty Rate Increase, Income Drop

Originally published on Wed September 14, 2011 3:33 am

The nation's poverty rate rose last year to 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 in 2009, according to a new report from the Census Bureau.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

The nation's poverty rate rose last year to 15.1 percent, the highest level in 17 years, according to new data from the Census Bureau. The agency's latest poverty report, released Tuesday, shows that 46 million people were poor and that the median income dropped last year by more than two percent to about $49,445.

Not unexpectedly, the continued lack of jobs was the main cause.

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3:51pm

Wed September 7, 2011
Around the Nation

USDA: Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Down

Originally published on Thu September 8, 2011 4:17 am

A sign in a New York City market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Despite the bad economy, the number of Americans who struggled to get enough to eat did not grow last year, and in some cases declined, according to new government data. Still, a near-record number — almost 49 million people — were affected.

Federal officials say an increase in government food aid kept the numbers from going even higher.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

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