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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Reporter's Notebook
8:38 am
Sat January 18, 2014

In Appalachia, Poverty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 12:21 pm

President Lyndon B. Johnson went to eastern Kentucky in 1964 to promote his War on Poverty. But when he did, he opened a wound that remains raw today. People in the region say they're tired of always being depicted as poor, so when NPR's Pam Fessler went to Appalachia to report on how the War on Poverty is going, she was warned that people would be reluctant to talk. Instead, she got an earful.

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Economy
3:11 pm
Wed January 8, 2014

Coal-Mining Area Grapples With How To Keep 'Bright Young Minds'

Colby Kirk of Inez, Ky., is a junior at the University of Kentucky, studying to be a financial analyst. He says there aren't many opportunities for college grads in his hometown.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 12:23 pm

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson stood before Congress and declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America." His arsenal included new programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, food stamps, more spending on education and tax cuts to help create jobs.

In the coming year, NPR will explore the impact and extent of poverty in the U.S., and what can be done to reduce it.

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Economy
1:29 am
Wed January 8, 2014

Kentucky County That Gave War On Poverty A Face Still Struggles

President Lyndon Johnson, on the porch of Tom Fletcher's cabin, listens to Fletcher describe some of the problems in Martin County, Ky., in 1964.
Bettmann Corbis

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 12:31 pm

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson stood before Congress and declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America." His arsenal included new programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, food stamps, more spending on education, and tax cuts to help create jobs.

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Politics
3:03 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Loophole Or Workaround? (Food Stamp Edition)

Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Wed December 4, 2013 1:39 pm

In the debate over whether to cut the food stamp program, members of Congress are looking at two pretty arcane provisions in the law. People who want to cut food stamps call the provisions loopholes. People who don't want to cut food stamps say they're efficient ways to get benefits to those who need them most.

1. Categorical Eligibility

People who qualify for one means-tested program — like welfare — can automatically qualify for other programs — like food stamps. This is called "categorical eligibility."

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Planet Money
1:04 am
Wed November 6, 2013

I Applied For An Online Payday Loan. Here's What Happened Next

eTaxLoan.com

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 3:06 pm

Payday lenders made about $49 billion in high-interest loans last year. More than a third of those loans were made online. I wondered what happens when you apply for such a loan, so I decided to find out.

In the course of reporting a story earlier this year, I logged on to a site called eTaxLoan.com and filled out an application.

I asked for $500 and, to be safe, I made up an address, a name (Mary) and a Social Security number. The site asked for more sensitive stuff — a bank account number and a routing number — and I made that up, too.

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Planet Money
3:15 pm
Mon September 16, 2013

The Poverty Rate Ignores Programs That Fight Poverty

Ann Valdez lives with her teenage son in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Pam Fessler / NPR

Originally published on Mon September 16, 2013 4:49 pm

New U.S. poverty numbers come out on Tuesday. But what, exactly, do those numbers measure?

Consider the case of Ann Valdez. She's a 47-year-old single mom who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn with her teenage son. She doesn't have a job. She gets a cash payment of about $130 every two weeks from the government. That's all that's counted for her income in the government's poverty measure.

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Planet Money
10:16 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

A College Kid, A Single Mom, And The Problem With The Poverty Line

Marion Matthew is a home health aide supporting herself and her 17-year-old son.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Tue August 27, 2013 3:02 am

The College Kid

Rico Saccoccio is a junior at Fordham University in the Bronx. He's from a middle-class family in Connecticut and he spent the summer living at home with his parents, who cover about $15,000 a year in his college costs.

According to the U.S. government, Saccoccio is living in poverty. The $8,000 he earns doing odd jobs puts him well below the $11,945 poverty threshold for an individual. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that more than half of all college students who are living off campus and not at home are poor.

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The Salt
4:38 am
Sat July 27, 2013

Tucson Food Bank Helps The Needy Grow Their Own Food

Food bank client Jamie Senik takes a break near her garden plot sponsored by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. She grows food for herself and her diabetic mother.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 8:15 pm

Food banks around the country face growing demand, despite improvements in the economy. Many families are still underemployed and struggling. So some food banks are looking for more permanent ways to address hunger, beyond handing out food.

One of them is the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, based in Tucson. Among the many programs it runs is Las Milpitas de Cottonwood, a community farm located in one of the city's lower-income neighborhoods.

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The Salt
1:30 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

Howard Buffett Battles Hunger, Armed With Money And Science

Buffett in a pinto bean field on the Arizona farm, where he grew 60,000 pounds of beans for a Tucson food bank in 2012. Another goal of Buffett's research farm is to find better crops for poor subsistence farmers.
Nick Oza for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 9:12 am

Get Howard Buffett into the cab of a big ole' farm tractor and he's like a kid — albeit a 58-year-old, gray-haired one. He's especially excited when it comes to the tractor's elaborate GPS system, which he describes as "very cool."

"I'm driving hands-free," says Buffett, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

He says that the tractor has been automatically set to plant 16 perfect rows of seeds, "so it makes everything more efficient. And it's going to give you a better crop in the end."

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Social Entrepreneurs: Taking On World Problems
4:20 pm
Tue June 11, 2013

Can Federal Funds Help Social Service Groups Work Smarter?

Jasmine Chestnut at her internship at the Center for American Progress in Washington. An at-risk student, Chestnut had almost given up on college when a nonprofit network supported by the government's Social Innovation Fund helped her get back on track.
Gabriella Demczuk NPR

When President Obama first took office in 2009, he had an idea called the Social Innovation Fund.

"We're going to use this fund to find the most promising nonprofits in America," he said when announcing the plan. "We'll examine their data and rigorously evaluate their outcomes. We'll invest in those with the best results that are the most likely to provide a good return on our taxpayer dollars."

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Around the Nation
2:47 am
Mon May 27, 2013

Overshadowed By Moore, Carney, Okla. Recovers From Twister

Originally published on Mon May 27, 2013 3:19 am

Moore, Okla., has gotten the lion's share of resources and attention following last week's tornado. A tornado hit Carney, Okla., last week too. No one died in Carney, but three dozen homes were damaged or destroyed — a big blow to a tiny town.

The Deadly Tornado In Moore, Okla.
3:55 am
Sat May 25, 2013

'Please, No More Clothes': Relief Groups Ask For Cash

Relief agencies like the American Red Cross say monetary donations give them the greatest flexibility to address victims' needs.
Erik Lesser EPA/Landov

Originally published on Sat May 25, 2013 2:38 pm

The tornado that devastated much of Moore, Okla., has drawn loads of donations from across the country: food, clothing, medical supplies, toys. Much of it is needed by the victims, but not everything.

After every disaster, relief groups usually ask for one thing: money. But writing a check or texting a donation isn't always that satisfying for those who want so desperately to help.

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Around the Nation
1:07 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Advocates Struggle To Reach Growing Ranks Of Suburban Poor

TD Bank volunteers sort donated food into barrels at the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg in Montgomery County, Md. Poverty in the county just outside Washington, D.C., has grown by two-thirds since 2007.
Gabriella Demczuk NPR

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 12:30 pm

Poverty has grown everywhere in the U.S. in recent years, but mostly in the suburbs. During the 2000s, it grew twice as fast in suburban areas as in cities, with more than 16 million poor people now living in the nation's suburbs — more than in urban or rural areas.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, says this shift in poverty can be seen in Montgomery County, Md., right outside the nation's capital.

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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 — 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 — after years of seeing other, failed efforts to get people off city streets — 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 — even a few hundred dollars — 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 — 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 — like food stamps, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — 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 — 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 — including President Obama and his family — 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 — the person mailed the box from Germany — 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 — 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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