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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Poverty In America: The Struggle To Get Ahead
3:15 pm
Wed July 11, 2012

To Beat Odds, Poor Single Moms Need Wide Safety Net

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

Originally published on Fri July 13, 2012 4:51 pm

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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Poverty In America
1:42 pm
Tue July 10, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Tue July 10, 2012 9:31 pm

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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It's All Politics
3:35 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Justice Department Sues Florida As Voter Battle Intensifies

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

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 6:02 pm

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
Around the Nation
3:29 am
Fri June 1, 2012

Komen Donations Down After Planned Parenthood Dispute

Originally published on Fri June 1, 2012 7:04 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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Around the Nation
4:33 am
Thu May 31, 2012

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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It's All Politics
2:07 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

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

Originally published on Fri May 18, 2012 4:34 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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The Two-Way
12:53 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

After Helping A Homeless Vet, An Unexpected Holiday Card

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

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

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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Around the Nation
1:19 am
Mon April 16, 2012

A Push To Help U.S. Veterans Fight Homelessness

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

Originally published on Mon April 16, 2012 7:54 am

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.

Read more
Election 2012
3:18 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

Tea Party Spawns New Effort Against Voter Fraud

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

Originally published on Thu March 15, 2012 11:44 am

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
It's All Politics
9:36 am
Mon March 12, 2012

Texas Voter ID Law Blocked By Justice Department

Originally published on Mon March 12, 2012 4:31 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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U.S.
3:33 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

House Committee Urges Action On Food Stamp Fraud

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

Originally published on Thu March 8, 2012 4:11 pm

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Governing
10:01 pm
Thu March 1, 2012

Shrinking Community Grants Put Cities In A Crunch

Originally published on Fri March 2, 2012 4:24 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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It's All Politics
1:54 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

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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It's All Politics
12:13 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

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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Election 2012
10:05 pm
Mon February 13, 2012

Study: 1.8 Million Dead People Still Registered To Vote

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

Originally published on Tue February 14, 2012 6:46 am

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
It's All Politics
3:36 pm
Tue February 7, 2012

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
Around the Nation
2:00 am
Mon February 6, 2012

Komen Foundation Struggles To Lure Back Donors

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

Originally published on Thu February 9, 2012 12:07 pm

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
It's All Politics
3:09 pm
Wed January 18, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Wed January 18, 2012 5:27 pm

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
Election 2012
10:01 am
Tue December 20, 2011

In Iowa, The Final GOP Ground Game Takes Shape

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

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:11 am

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.

Read more
Politics
3:26 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

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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Politics
10:09 am
Mon October 24, 2011

A Push To Register New Voters Reaches Behind Bars

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

Originally published on Tue October 25, 2011 4:50 am

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.

Read more
Election 2012
2:30 am
Mon September 26, 2011

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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Economy
10:01 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

New Programs Aim To Close The Wealth Gap

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

Originally published on Sun September 18, 2011 4:55 pm

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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Economy
10:01 pm
Wed September 14, 2011

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.

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Economy
3:56 pm
Tue September 13, 2011

Census: 2010 Saw Poverty Rate Increase, Income Drop

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

Originally published on Wed September 14, 2011 1:33 am

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.

Read more
Around the Nation
1:51 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

USDA: Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Down

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

Originally published on Thu September 8, 2011 2:17 am

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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Television
1:09 pm
Fri September 2, 2011

End Of An Era: A Telethon Without Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis, shown here in July, was dropped from the MDA Labor Day Telethon for reasons that are still unclear.
Frederick M. Brown Getty Images

For decades, Labor Day weekend has meant the Jerry Lewis telethon for muscular dystrophy. But this year, for the first time in 46 years, Jerry Lewis won't be on the show. The 85-year-old comedian has been dropped from the program for reasons that are still unclear.

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The Two-Way
11:50 am
Thu September 1, 2011

Jerry Lewis Will Not Participate In MDA Telethon, Says Publicist

Jerry Lewis speaks during "The Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis" panel at Television Critics Association Tour in Beverly Hills.
Frederick M. Brown Getty Images

Originally published on Thu September 1, 2011 11:55 am

Jerry Lewis will not participate in any way — live or pre-recorded — in this Sunday's telethon for muscular dystrophy. That's the final word, says the comedian's publicist, Candi Cazau. She says she spoke with Lewis last night and he dispelled rumors that he might record a song today that would air as part of the show.

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Economy
10:01 pm
Thu August 18, 2011

In Hard Times, Welfare Cases Drop In Some States

Monday marks 15 years since President Clinton signed an overhaul of the nation's welfare system into law. The president said the measure wasn't perfect, but provided a historic opportunity to fix a system that didn't work.

"Today we are ending welfare as we know it," he said in a Rose Garden ceremony on Aug. 22, 1996. "But I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended, but for what it began."

What it was supposed to begin was a program that would get the poor into the workforce and end their dependence on public aid.

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