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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It's All Politics
4:06 am
Thu April 16, 2015

Vulnerable Voting Machine Raises Questions About Election Security

Voters in Los Angeles County, Calif., cast their ballots in 2012.
Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu April 16, 2015 1:48 pm

Computer security experts have warned for years that some voting machines are vulnerable to attack. And this week, in Virginia, the state Board of Elections decided to impose an immediate ban on touchscreen voting machines used in 20 percent of the state's precincts, because of newly discovered security concerns.

The problems emerged on Election Day last November in Spotsylvania County. The AVS WINVote touchscreen machines used in precinct 302 began to shut down.

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Around the Nation
4:58 pm
Thu April 9, 2015

On Welfare? Don't Use The Money For Movies, Say Kansas Lawmakers

Originally published on Fri April 10, 2015 7:09 pm

Welfare recipients in Kansas may soon be barred from spending their benefits on activities like going to the movies or swimming, or from withdrawing more than $25 per day from bank machines.

If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill, it will become one of the strictest welfare laws in the country. It's one of a number of such measures popping up in states that say they're trying to reduce fraud and get people off the welfare rolls. But opponents say the laws are mean-spirited and hurt the poor.

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Shots - Health News
3:39 pm
Wed April 1, 2015

Trading Walkathons For Ice Buckets, Charities Try To Hold On To Donors

A big crowd turned out for the March of Dimes walkathon in Gainesville, Fla., in early March. But overall, the March of Dimes' March for Babies raised $3.5 million less in 2014 than it did the year before.
Elizabeth Hamilton Gainesville Sun/Landov

Originally published on Fri April 3, 2015 10:43 am

Springtime means outdoor charity events, and there are plenty to choose from.

You can walk, run, bike, swim or even roll around in the mud to raise money for a cause. But some of the bigger, more established events aren't doing as well as they used to, and charities are trying to adjust.

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Goats and Soda
2:55 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Engineer Turned Cabbie Helps New Refugees Find Their Way

After a long day at the Somali American Community Center he founded in Clarkston, Ga., and then at an after-school program, Omar Shekhey drives a taxi to earn extra money. Often he gives his earnings to refugees to help them with expenses.
Kevin Liles for NPR

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 10:55 am

This story is part of an occasional series about individuals who don't have much money or power but do have a big impact on their communities.

Almost 70,000 refugees — victims of war, hardship and persecution — are allowed into the U.S. each year. But settling into their new homes can be a challenge, from learning English to figuring out how to turn on the dishwasher.

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It's All Politics
2:51 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Supreme Court Declines To Hear Challenge To Strict Wisconsin Voter ID Law

"This is just one more development in the ongoing debate about voter identification, but it is by no means the last word," the ACLU's Dale Ho said.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 2:52 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday not to hear a case involving the constitutionality of Wisconsin's strict voter ID requirement shifts attention now to voter identification laws working their way through the courts in Texas and North Carolina.

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The Salt
4:05 am
Fri March 20, 2015

Both Parties Agree The Food Stamp Program Needs To Change. But How?

A new budget plan that calls for turning food stamps into a block grant program for states could affect stores that accept food stamps through an Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, system like this one in Memphis.
Thomas Hawk/Flickr

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 11:21 am

When it comes to the food stamps — or SNAP benefits as they're now called — there are few areas where Republicans and Democrats agree. But getting some of the 46 million people now receiving SNAP into the work force is one of them.

Last year Congress approved $200 million for states to test the best way to move people into jobs. And today, the Obama administration is announcing grants to 10 states to do just that.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the demonstration projects should help able-bodied recipients take advantage of an improving economy.

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Around the Nation
12:04 pm
Mon March 9, 2015

Many Unaccompanied Minors No Longer Alone, But Still In Limbo

Boys wait in line to make a phone call at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Arizona in June. Many of the minors who arrived from Central America last year are now awaiting court hearings to determine if they can stay in the U.S.
Ross D. Franklin/Pool Getty Images

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 6:45 am

Last summer, NPR spoke with a teenage boy who fled the violence in his home country to come live with his aunt just outside of Washington, D.C. Jose was just one among the wave of unaccompanied youths from Central America who poured across the border last year.

Nine months later, he says he's very worried about the safety of his three younger siblings, who still live back home. We agreed not to use Jose's full name or say which Central American country he's from, because his parents were murdered there in 2012 for not cooperating with drug traffickers from a local gang.

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Africa
3:58 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

Terrorism Fears Complicate Money Transfers For Somali-Americans

Customers wait to collect money at the Juba Express money transfer company in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Feb. 12.
Mohamed Abdiwahab AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 7:46 pm

Regulations intended to block money from getting into the hands of terrorist groups has led the last bank that handles most money transfers from the United States to Somalia to pull out of the business.

Somali refugees in the U.S. say their families back home need the money they send each month to survive, and they're counting on lawmakers and Obama administration officials, who are meeting in Washington on Thursday, to try to find a solution.

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It's All Politics
8:51 am
Sat February 14, 2015

Around The U.S., Voting Technology Is All Over The Place

Election worker Bradley Kryst loads voting machines onto a truck at the Clark County election warehouse on Nov. 3, in North Las Vegas. As voting machine technology changes, state elections officials are trying to keep up.
John Locher AP

Originally published on Sun February 15, 2015 11:46 am

Remember all that new voting equipment purchased after the 2000 presidential election, when those discredited punch card machines were tossed out? Now, the newer machines are starting to wear out.

Election officials are trying to figure out what to do before there's another big voting disaster and vendors have lined up to help.

During their annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, state election officials previewed the latest voting equipment from one of the industry's big vendors, Election Systems and Software.

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Around the Nation
2:25 am
Wed January 28, 2015

Homeless Man Encourages Others On The Streets To 'Get Up'

Tony Simmons leads a group of Johns Hopkins University students on a "justice walk" in downtown Baltimore, during which they learn about public policy, providing services, and the connections between income inequality and health.
Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 2:33 pm

This story begins an occasional series about individuals who don't have much money or power but do have a big impact on their communities.

Sometimes, the people you'd least expect are those who do the most. People like Tony Simmons, a homeless man in Baltimore who helps others get off the street. Simmons says he does it as much for himself as for anyone else.

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Shots - Health News
2:48 am
Tue January 27, 2015

Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren't Being Enforced, Report Finds

Will Crocker Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 27, 2015 10:27 am

Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That's according to a study by the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.

The numbers are grim. Almost 680,000 children in the United States were the victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. More than 1,500 of them died.

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Around the Nation
4:32 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

An Exhibit Offers A Different Angle On Life In Public Housing

Ephraim Benton, a former resident of Tompkins Houses in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, is now an actor. Benton started a community-based organization called Beyond Influencing Da Hood, which puts on health fairs, film festivals and various free community events in his old housing project. This photo was taken in front of his old building in Tompkins Houses.
Courtesy of Shino Yanagawa

Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 5:44 pm

Life in public housing sometimes can be difficult, but it's also a lot like life anywhere — made up mostly of work, school, family and friends. Still, many who don't live in public housing have a negative image of those who do.

Two former residents are trying to change that.

Rico Washington is one of them. The 38-year-old with long dreadlocks and a neatly trimmed beard grew up in Kimberly Gardens public housing apartments in Laurel, Md. When he was younger he was embarrassed about where he lived, he says, and would have co-workers drop him off down the street.

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Around the Nation
3:21 pm
Tue December 23, 2014

Near Police Killings, A Community With A Cycle Of Crime

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 5:26 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Law
3:53 am
Fri October 10, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Court Halts Wis. Voter ID Law; Texas Law Overturned

Originally published on Fri October 10, 2014 7:05 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It's All Politics
2:05 am
Thu October 9, 2014

Rules For Provisional Ballots All Over The Map

Adreanne Lewis signs up for a photo ID at a senior center in Arlington County, Va., with the help of Bill Sands, outreach coordinator for the county registrar.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Thu October 9, 2014 10:46 am

The fail-safe for many voters who run into problems at the polls — such as a lack of ID or an outdated address — is called provisional voting. The person votes, and his or her ballot only counts after the problem is resolved.

But many of these ballots never do count, raising questions about how good a fail-safe they really are.

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Law
3:27 pm
Wed September 24, 2014

As Election Nears, Voting Laws Still Unclear In Some States

Voters walk to an early voting site to cast their ballots on Aug. 11 in Miami. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Ohio upheld a decision extending early voting in that state. Meanwhile, as Election Day nears, courts are still considering cases about early voting in North Carolina, and voter ID requirements in Texas and Wisconsin.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Fri September 26, 2014 10:12 am

Midterm elections are less than six weeks away, but the rules for voting in some states are still unclear. This week alone, courts have been considering challenges to voter ID requirements in Texas and Wisconsin, and whether limits on early voting in North Carolina should stay in place. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court panel in Ohio upheld a decision extending early voting in that state, although state officials say they'll appeal.

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Politics
7:31 am
Thu September 18, 2014

Ads Get Creative, Even Seductive, To Attract Voters

In this Illinois ad, Doris and her friend Betty suggestively encourage two young men to come in ... and get voter ID cards.
YouTube

Originally published on Thu September 18, 2014 8:17 am

September is voter registration month, but inspiring Americans to register and vote isn't always easy. Especially with politicians held in such low esteem. So some groups — and a few election officials — are taking a page from the book of Mad Men's Don Draper to get voters to the polls. Who knew that voting could be this much fun?

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Economy
4:33 pm
Tue September 16, 2014

A 'Circle' Of Support Helps Families Stay Out Of Poverty

Cara Russo of Gettysburg, Pa., here with 9-year-old Shayla, one of her two daughters, has found success in a program geared to help struggling families navigate past some of the day-to-day obstacles that keep many poor.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Tue September 16, 2014 6:14 pm

Go around the country and you'll hear lots of frustration about just how difficult it is to get out of poverty — and more importantly, how to stay out. The official U.S. poverty rate may have gone down to 14.5 percent in 2013 according to new numbers out Tuesday, but still more than 45 million were poor.

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The Salt
1:00 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

Millions Struggle To Get Enough To Eat Despite Jobs Returning

People shop in a Miami grocery store on July 8. USDA says that despite the drop in unemployment, the number of food insecure Americans has not declined because higher food prices and inflation last year offset the benefits of a brighter job market.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 2:27 pm

The number of U.S. families that struggled to get enough to eat last year was essentially unchanged from the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest report on "food security."

The agency says that about 17.5 million families — or 1 in 7 — were food insecure last year. That means that at some point during the year, the household had trouble feeding all of its members. In 2012, the number was 17.6 million.

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It's All Politics
1:46 pm
Fri August 29, 2014

Texas Voter ID Law Goes To Trial

A voter in Austin, Texas, shows his photo identification to an election official in February.
Eric Gay AP

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 10:09 am

Dozens of lawyers will gather in a federal courtroom in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Tuesday for the start of a new challenge to the state's controversial voter ID law.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks, but it's unlikely to be the end of what's already been a long, convoluted journey for the Texas law — and many others like it.

First, some background:

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Shots - Health News
4:12 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Life After Ice Buckets: ALS Group Faces $94 Million Challenge

Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, LeBron James, Lindsay Lohan, Kermit the Frog and Conan O'Brien all got icily drenched for charity.
via YouTube

Originally published on Wed August 27, 2014 6:29 pm

The ALS ice bucket challenge continues to bring in huge donations this summer for efforts to cure and treat what's commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. As of today, the viral campaign has raised more than $94 million for the ALS Association. That's compared with $2.7 million raised by the group during the same time last year.

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Politics
2:28 am
Mon August 25, 2014

On The Fall Docket: Who Gets To Vote — And Who Gets To Decide?

Voters crowd into their polling place Aug. 15 at Keonepoko Elementary School in Pahoa, Hawaii.
Marco Garcia AP

Originally published on Tue August 26, 2014 12:23 pm

A federal appeals court in Denver is scheduled to hear arguments Aug. 25 in a dispute over whether Kansas and Arizona can require voters using a federal registration form to show proof of citizenship.

It's the first of several significant cases this fall that could determine who gets to vote, and how, in at least six states. The outcomes could also answer a much broader question: Who gets to decide?

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The Salt
2:53 am
Mon August 18, 2014

More Military Families Are Relying On Food Banks And Pantries

Volunteers at the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore sort and box food donations on a conveyor belt. The bank started working with groups like the USO in 2013 to provide food aid to families affiliated with nearby military bases.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Mon August 18, 2014 9:58 am

Despite the economic recovery, more than 46 million Americans — or 1 in 7 — used a food pantry last year. And a surprisingly high number of those seeking help were households with military members, according to a new survey by Feeding America, which is a network of U.S. food banks.

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Around the Nation
2:32 am
Fri August 8, 2014

Trauma Plagues Many Immigrant Kids In U.S. Illegally

A young immigrant caught crossing the border illegally is housed inside the McAllen Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, last month.
Pool Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 10:15 am

Many of the Central American children who have entered the U.S illegally in recent months have come with a heavy burden — a history of hardship and violence. And many of the children now face difficult and uncertain futures.

This has social service agencies around the country scrambling to figure out how to help the more than 30,000 unaccompanied minors who have been placed with family and friends since January, as they await their immigration hearings.

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The Salt
4:14 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Summer Program For Hungry Kids Gets Creative With Food Delivery

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

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 3:49 pm

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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Law
2:28 am
Mon July 14, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Wed July 16, 2014 6:40 pm

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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Economy
4:10 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

A Campaign To House The Homeless Reaches A Milestone

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

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 5:24 pm

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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The Salt
4:30 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Economic Upswing Has Fewer Americans Receiving Food Stamps

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

Originally published on Thu May 29, 2014 6:11 pm

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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U.S.
2:23 am
Tue May 27, 2014

Lack Of Affordable Housing Puts The Squeeze On Poor Families

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

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 4:02 pm

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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Around the Nation
6:41 am
Sun May 18, 2014

Poverty, A Frustrating Mix Of Bad Choices And Bad Luck

Originally published on Sun May 18, 2014 10:43 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.

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