Pam Fessler

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's Washington Desk, where she covers poverty and philanthropy. She's produced stories on homelessness, hunger, and the impact of the recession on the nation's less fortunate. She's also reported 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. Previously, she 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. Pam 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.

At NPR, Fessler has also been 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 during the Carter Administration, 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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3:00pm

Thu November 3, 2011
Around the Nation

Poor Increasingly Cluster In Impoverished Areas

The U.S. poverty rate was 15 percent last year — the highest in almost two decades. New numbers out Thursday from the Brookings Institution show that the nation's poor are increasingly concentrated in extremely poor neighborhoods. This creates additional problems for those trying to work their way out of poverty.

11:00am

Wed November 2, 2011
Politics

In Voter ID Debate, A Few Go Against Party Lines

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

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

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

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

A Democrat Criticized For Fraud Concerns

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5:00am

Tue October 25, 2011
Politics

A Push To Register New Voters Reaches Behind Bars

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

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

Pam Fessler NPR

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

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

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

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2:53pm

Wed October 19, 2011
Politics

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

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

Pam Fessler NPR

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

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

The Bureaucratic Maze

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4:30am

Mon September 26, 2011
Election 2012

Voters May Face Slower Lines In 2012 Elections

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

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

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

'We're Down To A Critical Level'

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12:01am

Fri September 16, 2011
Economy

New Programs Aim To Close The Wealth Gap

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

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

Part two of a two-part report.

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

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

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12:01am

Thu September 15, 2011
Economy

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

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

First of a two-part report.

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

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4:00am

Wed September 14, 2011
Economy

Census Bureau: Poverty Rate Rises Past 2009 Level

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

5:56pm

Tue September 13, 2011
Economy

Census: 2010 Saw Poverty Rate Increase, Income Drop

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

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

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

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

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3:51pm

Wed September 7, 2011
Around the Nation

USDA: Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Down

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

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

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

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

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

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3:09pm

Fri September 2, 2011
Television

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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1:50pm

Thu September 1, 2011
The Two-Way

Jerry Lewis Will Not Participate In MDA Telethon, Says Publicist

Originally published on Thu September 1, 2011 1:55 pm

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

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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12:01am

Fri August 19, 2011
Economy

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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12:02am

Tue July 26, 2011
Around the Nation

Study Shows Racial Wealth Gap Grows Wider

There's long been a big gap between the wealth of white families and the wealth of African-Americans and Hispanics. But the Great Recession has made it much worse — the divide is almost twice what it used to be.

That's according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, which says that the decline in the housing market is the main cause.

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12:01am

Mon July 18, 2011
Politics

The Politics Behind New Voter ID Laws

A voter casts a ballot in a Democratic primary on July 12, 2011 in Wisconsin, one of seven states to enact voter ID laws this year.
Dinesh Ramde ASSOCIATED PRESS

Voters going to the polls next year — and even some this year — will encounter lots of new rules. Photo ID requirements and fewer options for early voting are among the biggest changes.

They're part of a wave of new laws enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures this year. Supporters say the rules are needed to ensure honest elections.

But Democrats say it's part of a concerted GOP campaign to suppress the vote. They say minorities, students, the poor and disabled — those most likely to vote Democratic — will be hurt the most.

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4:40pm

Thu June 30, 2011
Around the Nation

Ex-Homeless Speak Out To Change Perceptions

John Harrison (right) says his homelessness is in "remission."
Pam Fessler NPR

The typical speakers bureau can get a celebrity, a politician or a media pundit to address your group for a few thousand, or maybe tens of thousands of dollars. But one speakers bureau made up of men and women who have been homeless will provide someone for only $40.

And the speech could be just as compelling as one given by high-priced talent.

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7:21am

Sat June 25, 2011
Food

Food Bank Shortages Lead To Innovation

Robert Laws collects supplies from the Tennessee food bank's mobile pantry.
Pam Fessler

Food banks around the country are trying to keep their shelves stocked as more people in the U.S. struggle to get enough to eat. Increasingly, that means finding new ways to salvage food that would otherwise go to waste.

One innovation is being tested at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. In a back room at the food bank's warehouse in Gray, Tenn., dented and crushed cans containing everything from green beans to beets are piled high on a counter.

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4:08pm

Thu June 23, 2011
Around the Nation

A Squash's Journey: From The Shelf To The Hungry

Walmart store manager Emily Bowman notices some yellow squash with brown spots — and takes about 40 off the shelves and puts them on a donation cart.
Pam Fessler NPR

Americans waste an estimated 150 billion pounds of food a year. A lot of it comes from grocery stores and other retailers.

Food banks increasingly are trying to get their hands on some of that food to help feed the hungry.

The big challenge is time. It's a race to get the groceries off the shelves, and into the mouths of those who need it before it spoils.

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7:35am

Sun June 19, 2011
Opinion

Diaries Reveal One 'Swelegant' Dad

Despite trying to get a start on life during the Great Depression, Robert Fessler was eager, passionate and full of hope.
Courtesy of Pam Fessler

I recently looked through diaries that my father wrote as a young man in New York in the 1930s, trying to get his start in life during the Great Depression.

The man in the diaries is not the man I knew: a middle-aged father of four who commuted from the New Jersey suburbs to a job he detested in Manhattan. Instead, the 20-something Robert Fessler was eager, passionate, full of hope. He dreamed of traveling around the world, maybe getting a job as a reporter. Just out of high school, he was trying desperately to mold himself into an interesting adult.

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12:01am

Fri May 6, 2011
News

Can You Know Where Charity Dollars Go? Not Easily

The controversy over Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson and his charity has donors asking this question: How do I know if my charitable dollars go where I think they're going?

Not easily, answers Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy. He was one of the first to raise red flags about Mortenson's charity, Central Asia Institute (CAI). Last month, CBS' 60 Minutes also questioned how the group spent its funds.

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4:20pm

Mon May 2, 2011
Osama Bin Laden Killed

U.S. Security Tightens, Despite No Specific Threat

On Monday, there were more police officers patrolling the subways in New York City and Washington, D.C., and tighter security at bridges and tunnels around New York City after the death of Osama bin Laden. The Massachusetts State Police had an increased presence at Boston's Logan airport, and at Los Angeles International Airport authorities say they're always on a heightened state of alert.

But Aaron Hanson, at LAX catching a plane to South Korea, said security on Monday was especially visible.

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8:00am

Sun April 17, 2011
Around the Nation

Ex-Congressman Fasts To Protest Budget Cuts

Former Congressman Tony Hall has joined dozens of religious leaders and thousands of supporters to protest budget cuts that they say will unfairly affect the poor. Hall has been fasting since March 28 and says he'll continue his diet of water and juice at least through Easter. For Hall, how the budget is cut is a moral issue, but House Speaker John Boehner says spending too much and leaving the next generation in debt is also a moral concern.

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