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.

It's been almost 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared a "War on Poverty." But today, the poverty rate in the U.S. is the highest it's been in 17 years, affecting some 46 million people.

The economy is partly to blame, but even in good times, millions of Americans are poor.

That's been a longtime concern for Maurice Lim Miller. He ran social service programs in the San Francisco Bay Area for 20 years. Then one day, the painful truth hit.

"The very first kids I had trained back in the early '80s, I saw their kids now showing up in my programs," he says.

The bad economy has hurt many nonprofits around the country, even as demands for their services have grown. That's certainly the case in Reading, Pa., which has been labeled the poorest city in America, with a poverty rate of more than 41 percent.

Now, one local nonprofit, Opportunity House, hopes to salvage some of its services by salvaging junk.

Looking For Help

Single mothers have an especially hard time getting out of poverty. Households headed by single mothers are four times as likely to be poor as are families headed by married couples.

Still, many of these women are trying to get ahead. Some know instinctively what the studies show: Children who grow up in poor families are far more likely to become poor adults.

In the middle of the night, most children are home in bed. But at the Second Street Learning Center in Reading, Pa., a half-dozen tiny bodies are curled up on green plastic floor mats, fast asleep.

Conversations are hushed. The lights are dim. At 1:30 a.m., day care worker Virginia Allen gently shakes two little sisters, snuggled under the same blanket, to tell them that their mother is there to pick them up.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued Florida on Tuesday to stop it from trying to remove noncitizens from its voter registration rolls.

The department says the way the state is going about doing this violates federal law. Florida says it's partly the federal government's fault for not sharing citizenship data with the state.

It's all part of the escalating battle between the Obama administration and Republican-led states over voting laws.



The Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure takes place tomorrow here in the nation's capital. It's one of the breast cancer charity's biggest fundraisers. But this year, participation is way down. That follows Komen's controversial decision in February to stop funding Planned Parenthood programs. The decision was quickly reversed, but Komen's supporters worry about the long-term impact, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.



And the disputes over voter eligibility extend well beyond Florida. New voter ID laws, and other voting restrictions, have been enacted in a number of states since the last major election. And that has raised special concern among African-Americans, who feel they are being targeted.

Black church leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus met yesterday here in Washington, D.C., to discuss how to make sure African-American voters aren't discouraged from turning out in November.

Here's NPR's Pam Fessler.

If you're eligible to vote but aren't registered yet, watch out. They're coming to get you!

Campaigns, political parties and interest groups are all mounting massive voter registration campaigns this year to influence the outcome of the November elections.

The target is the millions of Americans — the Pew Center on the States estimates that number is 51 million — who are eligible to vote but not registered. The belief is that even a relative few of these voters could swing the election results.

A recent NPR story about homeless veterans brought a remarkable email from listener Gary Bressick, who runs an insurance agency in Los Angeles. The story focused on one veteran, James Brown, who had just moved into his first apartment after living on the streets for most of the previous three decades.

Last year, the number of homeless U.S. veterans on a given night dropped 12 percent from the year before. But tens of thousands were still on the streets, and more could be joining them as troops return from Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama has vowed to end veterans' homelessness by 2015.

Homeless No More

James Brown left the Army in 1979. And for most of the next 32 years, he lived on the streets in and around Los Angeles. You might have seen him: the dirty, disheveled guy trying to keep warm in a cardboard box.

As part of a new campaign, dozens of citizen groups around the country are searching voter registration lists, looking for problems.

They're also training poll watchers to monitor this fall's elections.

Leaders of the effort — spawned by the Tea Party movement — say they want to make sure that elections are free from voter fraud. But critics say it's part of a campaign to suppress the votes of minorities, students and others who tend to vote Democratic.

The U.S. Department of Justice has blocked a new voter ID law from going into effect in Texas. The department says the state failed to show that the law would not deny or limit minorities' right to vote. It's the second state voter ID law the department has blocked.

With more than 46 million recipients, the food stamp program has become one of the government's biggest benefit programs.

It has also become one of the biggest targets for those who think the federal government isn't doing enough to prevent fraud.

Budget cuts approved by Congress in the past two years are trickling down to local communities, and officials there are not happy. They say that reductions in community development block grants will hurt the nation's most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Two years ago, the federal government gave out about $4 billion in such grants to low- and moderate-income communities. This year, the figure is $3 billion — a 25 percent cut. And as that pie has shrunk, those whose slices have shrunk even more are hungry for answers.

There are few people further apart on the issue of new voter photo ID requirements than Laura Murphy and Hans von Spakovsky.

She's director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. He's with the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department official under George W. Bush.

So when the two went head-to-head Thursday on the issue at the National Press Club in Washington DC, there were a few sparks.