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.

Russia's efforts to interfere with last year's elections will be front and center during two hearings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will appear before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence while the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hear from current U.S. intelligence officials and state election experts.

Here are five questions likely to be on lawmakers' minds as they listen to witnesses and ask questions.

The Florida elections vendor that was targeted in Russian cyberattacks last year has denied a recent report based on a leaked National Security Agency document that the company's computer system was compromised.

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As new reports emerge about Russian-backed attempts to hack state and local election systems, U.S. officials are increasingly worried about how vulnerable American elections really are. While the officials say they see no evidence that any votes were tampered with, no one knows for sure.

Updated at 9 p.m. ET

Russia's military intelligence agency launched an attack days before Election Day on a U.S. company that provides election services and systems, including voter registration, according to a top-secret report posted Monday by The Intercept.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is standing by his controversial comment that poverty is a "state of mind," but he says that "how a person thinks" is only one component that contributes to being poor.

"What I said is that it is a factor. A part of poverty can be the state of mind," he told NPR in an interview. "People tend to approach things differently, based on their frame of mind."

His agency, he says, wants "to find ways to make sure that people understand that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you, is you."

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When it comes to poor Americans, the Trump administration has a message: Government aid is holding many of them back. Without it, many more of them would be working.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney said as much when presenting the administration's budget plan this week to cut safety net programs by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years. The administration also wants to tighten work requirements for those getting aid, such as food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

President Trump's proposed budget, released Tuesday, calls for a major reworking of the nation's social safety net for low-income Americans. It would impose more stringent work requirements and limits on those receiving aid, including disability and food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It would also give states more control of, and responsibility for, such spending.

Anti-poverty advocates have vowed to fight the budget plan, which requires congressional approval to go into effect.

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One in eight Americans — 42 million people — still struggles to get enough to eat. And while that number has been going down recently, hunger appears to be getting worse in some economically distressed areas, especially in rural communities.

Food banks that serve these areas are also feeling the squeeze, as surplus food supplies dwindle but the lines of people seeking help remain long.

More than three months after President Trump vowed to investigate unfounded claims that last November's election was tainted by as many as 5 million fraudulent votes, the White House has announced the creation of a presidential commission led by Vice President Mike Pence to investigate voter fraud.

Baltimore erupted in violence two years ago, after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died in police custody. The unrest was about more than Gray's death, though — it exposed deep-seated problems facing many of the city's young people: lack of jobs, deep poverty, rampant crime and deteriorating neighborhoods.

Now, Baltimore residents are assessing what, if anything, has changed in the city since Gray's death.

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FBI Director James Comey has warned that Russia will try once again to influence U.S. elections, possibly as early as next year. To prepare, the federal government has declared elections to be a part of the nation's critical infrastructure that demands special attention.

But the federal government's focus has state and local election officials, who are very protective of how they do things now, extremely nervous.

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Groups that help low-income families get food assistance are alarmed by a recent drop in the number of immigrants seeking help. Some families are even canceling their food stamps and other government benefits, for fear that receiving them will affect their immigration status or lead to deportation. Many of the concerns appear to be unfounded but have been fueled by the Trump administration's tough stance on immigration.

Advocates for the poor say the budget plan the Trump administration rolled out on Thursday would be a kick in the shins for low-income Americans.

Sheryl Braxton, who relies on public housing, explained at a hearing in New York City this week that her community needs reinvestment, not less funding.

You might be asking yourself, whatever happened to Vice President Mike Pence's investigation into President Trump's claim that millions of people voted illegally in November? It's been over a month since the president said he would ask Pence to lead a "major investigation" into those claims and the overall issue of voter fraud.

Vice President Pence has yet to begin a promised investigation into allegations by President Trump that millions of people voted illegally in November. But that hasn't stopped state lawmakers from taking action they say would limit voter fraud, even though the president's claims have been widely discredited.

Legislation to tighten voter ID and other requirements has already been introduced in about half the states this year. And in statehouse after statehouse, the debate has had a familiar ring.

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At least twice now, President Trump's White House has walked away from his claims, made without evidence, by saying they must be investigated. One was his claim about being wiretapped. The other was a claim in January about millions of illegal voters in the election.

This post has been updated

The Department of Justice is reversing the federal government's position in an important voting rights case, involving a Texas voter ID law. The switch was not unexpected following the election of Donald Trump and confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Both Trump and Sessions claim voter fraud is a major problem and have backed voter ID laws.

Everyone expects Congress to change the Affordable Care Act, but no one knows exactly how.

The uncertainty has one group of people, the homeless, especially concerned. Many received health coverage for the first time under Obamacare; now they're worried it will disappear.

Joseph Funn, homeless for almost 20 years, says his body took a beating while he lived on the street.

Now, he sees nurse practitioner Amber Richert fairly regularly at the Health Care for the Homeless clinic in Baltimore.

While supporters of Donald Trump prepare for Friday's inauguration, so, too, are thousands of protesters.

Several dozen attended a training session this past weekend, run by a group called DisruptJ20. The group opposes just about everything the incoming administration stands for. Its goal is to disrupt, if not stop, Trump's inauguration.

Outgoing Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro's office overlooks a stretch of the Washington, D.C., waterfront where several high-rent apartment buildings are being built, in a city where affordable housing is in short supply and homelessness is a big problem.

These are some of the same issues his successor will have to deal with as head of an agency that provides housing aid to 10 million low-income families.

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Wednesday is the longest night of the year, and in many U.S. cities it will also be one of the coldest. Even so, more than a half-million Americans will be sleeping outside or in homeless shelters.

This week, activists are holding vigils around the country to remember the thousands of homeless people who died this year, many of them prematurely.

If you look at the list of the 46 homeless individuals who died this year in Washington D.C., you'll notice that almost all of them were in their 40s or 50s — people like Shawn Simmons, age 44, and Bernadette Byrd, age 53.

Thousands of people are expected in Washington, D.C., next month to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump. They'll join thousands more who will be there to celebrate the incoming president.

But sorting out which group gets to be where is causing controversy.

Yasmina Mrabet, an organizer with the left-wing Answer Coalition, says her group expects to bring in protesters from around the country.

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Remember a couple of years ago, when it seemed like we were all one big happy family, Americans of every age and political stripe, joined in common pursuit? Millions of us spent that summer pouring buckets of ice water on our heads, to raise money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

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