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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The Sequester: Cuts And Consequences
1:56 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Tue April 30, 2013 6:01 pm

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

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 Many newly issued vouchers have been rescinded, leaving some people homeless or doubled up with family and friends.

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

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Around the Nation
3:46 pm
Tue April 16, 2013

Changes Help San Diego Homeless, But Long Road Remains Ahead

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

Originally published on Tue April 23, 2013 1:05 pm

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

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

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It's All Politics
1:54 pm
Thu March 28, 2013

Obama Forms Presidential Commission To Study Voting Problems

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

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 2:30 pm

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

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Around the Nation
1:15 am
Mon March 25, 2013

Free Tax Help Protects Low-Income Filers From Pricey Loans

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon March 25, 2013 7:50 am

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

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

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

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Around the Nation
3:23 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

Health Problems Compound For Aging Homeless

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

Originally published on Wed March 13, 2013 6:27 pm

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

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

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

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Health Care
2:24 am
Wed March 13, 2013

'We Shouldn't Have To Live Like This'

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

Originally published on Thu March 14, 2013 10:05 am

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

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

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The Sequester: Cuts And Consequences
4:14 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 5:05 pm

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

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

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It's All Politics
1:33 pm
Fri February 15, 2013

President's New Voting Commission Greeted With Skepticism

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

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 2:18 pm

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

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

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It's All Politics
1:45 am
Tue February 12, 2013

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

Originally published on Tue February 12, 2013 3:00 am

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

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Economy
11:42 pm
Tue January 29, 2013

Study: Nearly Half In U.S. Lack Financial Safety Net

Nearly 44 percent of Americans don't have enough savings or other liquid assets to stay out of poverty for more than three months if they lose their income, according to the Corporation for Enterprise Development.
Atanas Bezov iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed January 30, 2013 9:03 am

In his inaugural address, President Obama talked about a country where even "a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else." But in reality, that's not always the case. A new report finds that one of the biggest obstacles for many Americans is that they don't have the savings or assets they need to help them get ahead.

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Inauguration 2013
3:38 am
Sat January 19, 2013

Turning The 'Day Of Service' Into A Longer Commitment

Chelsea Clinton makes cards with 8-year-old Addison Rose on the National Mall on Saturday as part of the National Day of Service events. Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is the honorary chair of the National Day of Service.
Steve Helber AP

Originally published on Sat January 19, 2013 11:39 am

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people β€” including President Obama and his family β€” are participating in volunteer activities around the country. Saturday's National Day of Service kicks off the president's second inauguration and honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

As budgets tighten and personal schedules fill, nonprofits are looking for new ways to attract extra helpers, and organizers for the national event hope it will lead to a permanent boost in volunteerism.

Willingness To Give Back

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U.S.
3:33 am
Sat January 12, 2013

The 'Second Disaster': Making Well-Intentioned Donations Useful

Thousands of food and clothing items are organized by Occupy Sandy volunteers in a school gymnasium in Rockaway Park, Queens, after Superstorm Sandy in November.
Craig Ruttle AP

Originally published on Sat January 12, 2013 11:36 am

Among the donations that poured into the American Red Cross building after the earthquake in Haiti three years ago was a box of Frisbees. In a flood of well-intentioned but unneeded donations, this box stuck out to Meghan O'Hara, who oversees in-kind donations for the organization.

O'Hara says someone clearly wanted to help β€” the person mailed the box from Germany β€” but all she could think was, "Wow. That $60 or $70 could have been sent to so many different organizations to help out in so many different ways, and now we have a box of Frisbees."

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Around the Nation
3:11 pm
Wed January 9, 2013

Thanks, But No Thanks: When Post-Disaster Donations Overwhelm

Volunteers sort through piles of donated clothes for Superstorm Sandy victims at an impromptu Staten Island aid station in November. Relief groups are still trying to figure out what to do with donated clothes people sent to New York and New Jersey in Sandy's aftermath.
Seth Wenig AP

Originally published on Wed January 9, 2013 4:31 pm

Newtown, Conn., was so inundated with teddy bears and other donations after last month's school shootings that it asked people to please stop sending gifts. Relief groups in New York and New Jersey are still trying to figure out what to do with piles of clothes and other items sent there after Superstorm Sandy.

It happens in every disaster: People want to help, but they often donate things that turn out to be more of a burden. Disaster aid groups are trying to figure out a better way to channel these good intentions.

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U.S.
3:16 am
Mon November 26, 2012

'Giving Tuesday': The Start Of A Holiday Tradition?

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 2:50 pm

First, there was the post-Thanksgiving sales spectacle Black Friday and then the online version, Cyber Monday. Now, charitable groups want to start a new holiday tradition β€” it's called Giving Tuesday and the first one is tomorrow.

It may seem a little surprising that no one came up with the idea before of designating a specific day to help launch the holiday charitable giving season.

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Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond
1:25 am
Fri November 16, 2012

Want To Help Sandy Victims? Send Cash, Not Clothes

Volunteers sort through donated clothes in Sea Bright, N.J.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 2:47 am

Whenever there's a disaster, people want to give, and Hurricane Sandy is no exception. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, U.S. charities collected more than $174 million in donations as of Nov. 9 to help respond to the storm.

But it's not only money that has been pouring in. Relief programs have also received mountains of clothes, food and other supplies, not all of which are needed.

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The Salt
2:11 pm
Tue November 13, 2012

Storm-Battered Food Banks Struggle To Help The Hungry

After Superstorm Sandy, the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties in Neptune, N.J., is filled with water bottles, canned food and other goods. But these supplies are going out almost as fast as they come in.
Amy Walters NPR

Originally published on Tue November 13, 2012 3:20 pm

Food banks in New York and New Jersey were already hard-pressed to meet the demands of families struggling with a bad economy. Add to that a natural disaster and the upcoming holidays, and they're looking at a whole new set of challenges.

Preparation did help some organizations. Five days before Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey Shore, the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties got its new generator up and running. Thank goodness for that, says Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez.

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It's All Politics
1:27 am
Thu November 8, 2012

Fixing Long Election Lines May Be Easier Said Than Done

Voters line up in the dark Tuesday to cast their ballots at a polling station in Miami. President Obama said the long lines nationwide were something "we have to fix."
Wilfredo Lee AP

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 8:46 am

Although voting problems in Tuesday's election were fewer than some people had expected, there were extremely long lines at many polling sites; so many that President Obama noted them in his victory speech.

"I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time, or waited in line for a very long time," he said, adding, "by the way we have to fix that."

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Election 2012
5:47 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

Voting By Email In New Jersey Runs Into Snags

Originally published on Tue November 6, 2012 6:08 pm

Melissa Block talks with Pam Fessler about voting issues that arose on Tuesday.

It's All Politics
2:13 pm
Fri November 2, 2012

What If There's No Winner? Presidential Campaigns And Their Lawyers Prepare

People cast their ballots at an early-voting center in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15.
Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 3:46 pm

The presidential race is expected to be extremely close, and that has a lot of people nervous about what it will mean for election night.

Does it mean that the vote count could drag on for days, or even weeks, as it did in 2000?

Lawyers for the campaigns, the political parties and state election offices are preparing for the possibility.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted could very well be the man in the middle of any election night storm. By all accounts, the vote in his crucial battleground state will be extremely close.

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Election 2012
3:17 pm
Tue October 30, 2012

Large Power Outages Raise Concerns For Election Day

Transcript

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Looming over the recovery from Super Storm Sandy is what to do about next Tuesday's election? The prospect that some voters could still be displaced or without power a week from today has election officials trying to come up with alternative plans.

It even has some people talking about the highly unusual step of delaying the vote, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

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It's All Politics
3:02 am
Thu October 25, 2012

Watchdog Groups Prep For Voter Intimidation, Fraud

A sign directing voters to a polling place is seen during the first day of early voting on Monday in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 5:05 am

Concerns about problems at the polls appear to be greater and coming earlier than usual this election year. Already, mysterious phone calls in Florida and Virginia have told voters they can vote by phone β€” which they cannot do.

And until this week, there were anonymous billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin warning that voter fraud is a felony β€” which it is.

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It's All Politics
11:16 am
Tue October 23, 2012

Florida Officials Investigate Fake Voter Eligibility Letters

Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 11:58 am

It's a sign that Election Day is getting closer: increasing reports of efforts to intimidate or mislead voters. Florida officials say they're now investigating fake letters that have been sent to voters in at least 20 counties questioning their citizenship and eligibility to vote.

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It's All Politics
1:46 pm
Thu October 18, 2012

Swing-State Billboards Warning Against Voter Fraud Stir Backlash

An anonymous "family foundation" is paying for billboards warning against voter fraud, like this one in a minority neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland. Clear Channel, which owns the space, says the anonymity violates its policies but it will not take the ads down.
Ken Barcus NPR

Originally published on Thu October 18, 2012 6:00 pm

Dozens of anonymous billboards have popped up in urban areas in the crucial battleground states of Ohio and Wisconsin. The signs note that voter fraud is a felony, punishable by up to 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Civil rights groups and Democrats complain that the billboards are meant to intimidate voters.

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Solve This
2:17 pm
Mon October 15, 2012

Candidates' Views On Poverty Get Little Attention

People eat a free community meal at The Center in Lima, Ohio, earlier this year. Although more than 46 million Americans are poor, the issue has gotten little attention in the presidential race.
Mario Tama Getty Images

Originally published on Mon October 15, 2012 4:46 pm

The nation's poverty rate is as high as it's been in almost two decades. Last year, 1 in 6 Americans was poor β€” more than 46 million people, including 16 million children.

But on the campaign trail, the issue of poverty has received surprisingly little attention.

When he first ran for president, Barack Obama went to a low-income neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and spoke passionately about hunger and poverty. He repeated Bobby Kennedy's question in 1967: "How can a country like this allow it?"

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It's All Politics
3:31 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

Voter Registration Deadlines Begin Passing This Week

A voter registration form and absentee ballot application at a Franklin County polling place in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday. The deadline to register to vote in Ohio is Oct. 9.
Matt Sullivan Reuters/Landov

If you want to vote in the November elections and you aren't registered yet β€” you'd better hurry. The registration deadline in five states is this weekend. By the following weekend, the deadline will have passed in more than half the states.

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It's All Politics
1:01 pm
Fri September 28, 2012

Citing 'Zero Tolerance' For Voter Fraud, RNC Fires Firm Over Florida Questions

Originally published on Fri September 28, 2012 2:31 pm

A big embarrassment came this week for the Republican Party, which has made voting integrity and fighting voter fraud a major issue.

A consulting firm hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in five battleground states has been let go after one of its workers apparently submitted over 100 questionable registration forms in Florida's Palm Beach County.

The party severed its ties with the firm β€” Strategic Allied Consulting β€” because it has "zero tolerance" for voter fraud, said RNC spokesman Sean Spicer.

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Politics
1:37 am
Thu September 27, 2012

Pa. Voters Battle Bureaucracy Ahead Of ID Law Ruling

Beverly Mitchell shows off her new photo ID card outside a Philadelphia DMV office. She decided to get the card in case a Pennsylvania court rules to allow the enactment of a state law that requires voters to show photo ID in order to vote.
Pam Fessler/NPR

Originally published on Thu September 27, 2012 7:08 am

The first sign that getting a new ID isn't going to be easy for Beverly Mitchell and Kathleen Herbert comes before the pair have even left their downtown Philadelphia senior center. As they wait for a ride to a nearby Department of Motor Vehicles office, they get the news: The van that was supposed to take them is broken.

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Election 2012
1:29 am
Thu September 20, 2012

Voter Purges Under Review Ahead Of Election Day

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 3:14 am

Noncitizens aren't allowed to vote in federal and state elections, but efforts to remove them from the nation's voter registration rolls have produced more angst than results.

Opponents say the scope of the problem has been overblown; those behind the efforts say they've just begun to look at the problem.

'Early Stages'

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Economy
3:10 pm
Wed September 12, 2012

Poverty Rate Unchanged, But Still Historically High

A child waits with a box of food at a mobile food bank in Oswego, N.Y., in June. New census data show that 46.2 million people in the U.S. lived below the poverty line last year.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Wed September 12, 2012 7:45 pm

The U.S. poverty rate last year was unchanged from the year before, according to new figures Wednesday from the Census Bureau. But that still means almost 1 in 6 Americans was poor.

The new data show that 46.2 million people in the U.S. lived below the poverty line β€” about $23,000 for a family of four. The number of poor was almost exactly the same as it was the year before, but still historically high.

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Election 2012
2:11 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

Voting Laws In Several States Remain Unsettled

In South Carolina, Pennsylvania and several other states, new voter ID laws are being challenged in court just eight weeks before the general election.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon September 10, 2012 4:26 pm

Eight weeks before the presidential election, new laws passed by Republican legislatures that concern who can vote and when remain in the hands of federal and state judges.

Among the cases: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week will hear an appeal to overturn that state's new voter ID law. An appeal is expected in a case involving early voting in Ohio. And a federal court is still considering whether South Carolina can go ahead with its new voter ID law.

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