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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Law
3:28 am
Mon July 14, 2014

How Banning One Question Could Help Ex-Offenders Land A Job

Sherman Justice says he struggled when he got out of prison after serving time for robbery and drug trafficking.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Wed July 16, 2014 7:40 pm

Washington, D.C., is expected to join four states and several cities soon in prohibiting companies from asking job applicants — up front — if they have a criminal record.

It's part of a growing movement called Ban the Box, a reference to that box on a job application form that asks, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"

Advocates for the laws say having to check the box prevents many ex-offenders from getting a fair shot at a job.

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Business
6:00 am
Tue June 17, 2014

Charitable Giving Nears Pre-Recession Levels, Annual Report Shows

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 6:25 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

NPR's Business News starts with giving on the rise. Americans last year gave $335 billion to charity. That's according to a new report released today by the Giving USA Foundation. That is close to the levels of donation before the recession. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: After the recession, experts predicted it would take many years - maybe even a decade - for charitable giving to get back to where it was before the economic downturn. But it now appears to be right around the corner.

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Economy
5:10 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

A Campaign To House The Homeless Reaches A Milestone

Mallyveen Teah relaxes in his Arlington, Va., apartment after work.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 6:24 pm

Mallyveen Teah, 53, has been homeless or couch surfing on and off for the past 25 years. Now, he walks from his job at a construction site in Arlington, Va., to his new home, a one-bedroom apartment.

"Something as simple as giving a person a set of keys to their own place makes a huge difference in terms of their outlook on life, the world," he says.

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The Salt
5:37 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Economic Upswing Has Fewer Americans Receiving Food Stamps

A woman and her daughter shop at a Greenmarket in New York City using Electronic Benefits Transfer, or food stamps. Government data show that fewer people were receiving the benefits in February 2014 than at the peak in December 2012.
Andrew Burton Getty Images

Originally published on Thu May 29, 2014 7:11 pm

Critics of the food stamp program have been alarmed in recent years by its rapid growth. Last year, about 1 in 7 people in the U.S. received food stamps, or SNAP benefits, as they're called. That's almost 48 million people, a record high.

But the numbers have started to drop. In February, the last month for which figures were available, 1.6 million fewer people received food stamps than at the peak in December 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the program.

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U.S.
3:23 am
Tue May 27, 2014

Lack Of Affordable Housing Puts The Squeeze On Poor Families

Toni Smart points to the oven that she uses to heat her one-bedroom apartment, which has no heat. Smart says she and her kids stayed in homeless shelters a few years ago. She says she'd rather be without heat than in the shelter.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 5:02 pm

The U.S. is in the midst of what Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan calls the "worst rental affordability crisis" ever. Poor families are being hit the hardest: An overwhelming majority spend more than half of their incomes on rent. Others live in substandard housing, or are homeless.

The problem is especially acute in Washington, D.C., in a bustling neighborhood just a few blocks from the Capitol Building.

A Tale Of Two Cities

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Around the Nation
7:41 am
Sun May 18, 2014

Poverty, A Frustrating Mix Of Bad Choices And Bad Luck

Originally published on Sun May 18, 2014 11:43 am

Stories about poverty can evoke strong reactions, in part because Americans are conflicted about the topic. Both bad circumstances and bad choices can be the cause.

War On Poverty, 50 Years Later
5:11 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

One Family's Story Shows How The Cycle Of Poverty Is Hard To Break

Desiree Metcalf, here with one of her three daughters, is one of many poor Americans who find themselves trapped in a system meant to help.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 9:59 am

Desiree Metcalf's story is heartbreaking, but among the 46 million Americans who are poor today, her story is not unique.

Metcalf is 24 years old.

She's the mother of three little girls — ages 6, 4 and 2. They all have different fathers.

"That about sums me up, I think," she says.

Read more
War On Poverty, 50 Years Later
3:34 am
Wed May 7, 2014

The Changing Picture Of Poverty: Hard Work Is 'Just Not Enough'

Victoria Houser of Painted Post, N.Y., is raising her son, Brayden, on her own. She says she feels stuck in a never-ending cycle, constantly worried that one financial emergency will send everything tumbling down.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 5:27 pm

There are 46 million poor people in the U.S., and millions more hover right above the poverty line — but go into many of their homes, and you might find a flat-screen TV, a computer or the latest sneakers.

And that raises a question: What does it mean to be poor in America today?

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Code Switch
4:03 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

As States Vote In Primaries, Voter ID Laws Come Under Scrutiny

An Arkansas voter enters an early-voting polling place on May 5.
Danny Johnston AP

Originally published on Tue May 6, 2014 9:04 pm

Three states are holding primaries Tuesday, and voters might understandably be confused over what kind of identification they need to show at the polls.

In Indiana, it has to be a government-issued photo ID. In Ohio, you can get by with a utility bill. In North Carolina, you won't need a photo ID until 2016. But that law, along with ID laws in many other states, faces an uncertain future.

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Around the Nation
6:16 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Finding A More Nuanced View Of Poverty's 'Black Hole'

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 1:04 pm

Ask Anne Valdez what poverty means for her, and her answer will describe much more than a simple lack of money.

"It's like being stuck in a black hole," says Valdez, 47, who is unemployed and trying to raise a teenage son in Coney Island, New York City. "Poverty is like literally being held back from enjoying life, almost to the point of not being able to breathe."

For years, researchers have complained that the way the government measures income and poverty is severely flawed, that it provides an incomplete — and even distorted — view.

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Politics
5:05 pm
Thu March 27, 2014

Voting Rights Fight Takes New Direction

An election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early-voting polling site in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay AP

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 7:03 pm

It's that time again, when primary voters start casting their ballots for the midterm elections. As in recent years, voters face new rules and restrictions, including the need in 16 states to show a photo ID.

But this year, some voting rights activists say they're seeing a change — fewer new restrictions and, in some places, even a hint of bipartisanship.

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The Salt
7:10 pm
Thu March 13, 2014

States' Rebellion Against Food Stamp Cuts Grows

States are taking an out provided by Congress to avoid cutting food stamp benefits to families, many of whom already depend on food banks like the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, Calif.
Antonio Mena Courtesy of Alameda County Community Food Bank

Originally published on Fri March 14, 2014 1:41 pm

When Congress passed a farm bill earlier this year, it expected to save $8.6 billion over 10 years by tightening what many say is a loophole in the food stamp, or SNAP, program. But it's not going to happen.

You see, Congress left states an opening to avoid the cuts. And so far, nearly half of the states participating have decided to take that option — a move that could erase the promised savings.

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Around the Nation
5:21 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Panel Charged With Eliminating Child Abuse Deaths

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 12:58 pm

A federal commission to prevent children's deaths from abuse and neglect held its first meeting on Monday. Figuring out the extent of the problem is just one challenge facing the new commission.

Fitness & Nutrition
5:21 am
Sun February 23, 2014

Can Exercising Seniors Help Revive A Brooklyn Neighborhood?

Linda Beckford (right) exercises as part of a walking group that tries to make their neighborhood a better place to live. If nothing else, the seniors feel more confident about going outside.
Quoctrung Bui NPR

Originally published on Sun February 23, 2014 11:57 am

The Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., is known for many things, among them huge public housing projects, extremely high poverty and crime. Last summer, a one-year-old boy was shot in the head and killed as he sat in a stroller in the neighborhood.

But that's one side of life in Brownsville. Down the street from that murder, on weekday mornings, is another side.

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U.S.
5:04 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Nonprofits Pull In Investors To Tackle Housing Affordability

Melissa Conklin, 23, stands in the kitchen of her two-bedroom apartment at Woodmere Trace in Norfolk, Va. She earns about $30,000 a year at a nearby car dealership, and says these apartments are not only convenient, but affordable. She pays about $900 a month here, far less than other apartments in the area.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Thu February 27, 2014 12:56 pm

One of the biggest problems facing low-income families in the U.S. today is a lack of affordable housing.

According to a recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard, more than 7 million low-income households now spend more than half of their income for rent, which leaves little money for anything else. And the situation is expected to get worse.

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Reporter's Notebook
10:38 am
Sat January 18, 2014

In Appalachia, Poverty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 2:21 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
5:40 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 2:23 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
3:29 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 2:31 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.

Read more
Politics
5:03 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Loophole Or Workaround? (Food Stamp Edition)

Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Wed December 4, 2013 3:39 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
6:27 pm
Thu November 7, 2013

What Happened To Those TV Ads For Payday Loans?

Western Sky

Originally published on Thu November 7, 2013 6:51 pm

On TV this summer, you might have seen this ad with a smiling young woman offering help for all those troublesome bills.

"The problem-solver from Western Sky. Get up to $10,000 without collateral. Enough to pay off your payday advances, once and for all," she says.

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Planet Money
3:04 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 5:06 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
5:15 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 6:49 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
12:16 am
Tue August 27, 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 5:02 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
6:38 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 10:15 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
3:33 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 11:12 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."

Read more
Law
5:27 am
Wed June 26, 2013

Voting Rights Ruling By Supreme Court Draws Mixed Reactions

Originally published on Wed June 26, 2013 11:13 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

As we've been hearing, the reaction to the court's decision was strong and immediate.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Obama said he was deeply disappointed and he called on Congress to act. Civil rights groups say they have lost the most powerful weapon in their effort to ensure equal access at the polls.

MONTAGNE: But as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, some lawmakers in states where voting laws changed - voting law changes were subject to federal approval are saying they're finally free of an unfair burden.

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Social Entrepreneurs: Taking On World Problems
5:30 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

Originally published on Tue June 11, 2013 6:20 pm

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
4:47 am
Mon May 27, 2013

Overshadowed By Moore, Carney, Okla. Recovers From Twister

Originally published on Mon May 27, 2013 5:19 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.
5:55 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 4:38 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
3:07 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 2:30 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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