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.


4:38 pm
Thu September 24, 2015

Pope Francis Meets Homeless At Catholic Charities In Washington, D.C.

Originally published on Thu September 24, 2015 7:36 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

4:51 pm
Wed September 16, 2015

Despite Improving Economy, Poverty Remains Unchanged In 2014

Originally published on Wed September 16, 2015 9:16 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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It's All Politics
1:03 am
Tue September 15, 2015

Report: America's Aging Voting Machines Could Present Election Problems

A voter fills out her ballot in Las Vegas in 2004. A new report finds several states, including Nevada, have voting machines more than 10 years old, which are more likely to fail.
David McNew Getty Images

Originally published on Wed September 16, 2015 3:33 pm

Voting machines around the United States are coming to the end of their useful lives. Breakdowns are increasingly common. Spare parts are difficult, if not impossible, to find. That could be a serious problem for next year's presidential elections.

Allen County, Ohio, election director Ken Terry knows how bad things can get. In the last presidential election, he had to replace the Zip disks — a 1990s technology — in the main machine his county uses to count votes. The disks are no longer made. And when he finally got some from the voting machine manufacturer:

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Around the Nation
5:25 pm
Wed September 2, 2015

For A Baltimore Boutique Owner, A 'Joyous' Reopening After The Riots

Taylor Alexander, who owns Baltimore clothing store Flawless Damsels, celebrates its recent reopening. A no-interest loan and online fundraiser helped her reopen the shop after it was looted in April's riots following the death of Freddie Gray.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Tue September 8, 2015 11:30 am

It's been four months since more than 400 Baltimore businesses were damaged in riots following the death of Freddie Gray. Most — but not all — of those businesses have reopened, although some are still struggling to get back the customers they lost.

Six weeks after the April riots, the windows of Taylor Alexander's women's clothing store were still boarded up. Her shop, Flawless Damsels, was so empty inside that her voice echoed off the walls when she described what it used to look like before looters cleared her out.

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NPR Story
3:35 am
Mon August 17, 2015

After Katrina, New Orleans' Public Housing Is A Mix Of Pastel And Promises

Bobbie Jennings, 69, stands outside her home in the Harmony Oaks housing development in New Orleans. Jennings says that she misses the sense of community of the Magnolia projects, the nickname of the C.J. Peete projects that Harmony Oaks replaced.
Edmund D. Fountain for NPR

Originally published on Tue August 18, 2015 5:08 pm

Hurricane Katrina caused widespread devastation and loss of life, and many of those whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged fled New Orleans.

In the months that followed, many of the city's poorest families got even more bad news: The public housing units they called home would be knocked down, even if undamaged by the storm.

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Around the Nation
5:17 pm
Sat August 15, 2015

In New Orleans, A Plan To Disperse The Poor Doesn't Go As Expected

Originally published on Mon September 21, 2015 11:34 am

Many of the families that were forced out of public housing by Hurricane Katrina now use government vouchers to subsidize their rents elsewhere. That shift was supposed to help de-concentrate poverty in the New Orleans area, but it hasn't worked as planned.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit


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Shots - Health News
3:38 pm
Thu July 23, 2015

Why Disability And Poverty Still Go Hand In Hand 25 Years After Landmark Law

After a long day, Emeka arrives home to the apartment in South Tulsa that he shares with his father.
Kenneth M. Ruggiano for NPR

Originally published on Sun July 26, 2015 10:28 am

If you have a disability in the U.S., you're twice as likely to be poor as someone without a disability. You're also far more likely to be unemployed. And that gap has widened in the 25 years since the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted.

"Every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom," President George H.W. Bush said when he signed the bill into law on July 26, 1990.

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12:24 am
Tue July 7, 2015

For Homeless Families, Quick Exit From Shelters Is Only A Temporary Fix

Kyra Brooks, 8, strokes her mother's head. After years in and out of various programs, McClellan finally received a permanent housing voucher for the apartment she and her three children live in now. That means she has to pay up to 30 percent of her income in rent, but there's no time limit, unlike in the rapid rehousing program.
Lexey Swall GRAIN for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 8, 2015 1:17 pm

More than 150,000 U.S. families are homeless each year. The number has been going down, in part because of a program known as rapid rehousing, which quickly moves families out of shelters and into homes.

But new research by the Obama administration finds that for many families, rapid rehousing is only a temporary fix.

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3:38 am
Tue June 9, 2015

For Baltimore Businesses, Aid For Riot Repair Is Not Coming Fast Enough

Volunteers clean up a business damaged during an evening of riots following the funeral of Freddie Gray on April 28 in Baltimore.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Sun June 14, 2015 9:57 pm

It took only minutes for stores in Baltimore to be destroyed on the night of April 27. But six weeks later, the repair process is still limping along. And stores not directly affected by the violence say they've also seen a sharp decline in business.

"Look outside, there's nobody," says Pedro Silva, owner of Carolina's Tex-Mex Restaurant in Fells Point, a usually busy tourist spot. "Before, we used to be no parking space. Now it's empty. It's empty — day, night."

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5:18 pm
Sat June 6, 2015

Trans In Transition: Finding Friends And Community In D.C.

Ruby Corado, second from right, and Selena Cruz whip their hair around playfully while joking with Lazema Mills, left, and Giselle Gartzog, right, at Casa Ruby, a drop-in and service center for transgender people in Washington, D.C. Through the center, Corado helps people find housing, medical care and get food.
Lexey Swall GRAIN for NPR

Originally published on Sun June 7, 2015 12:42 am

Hanging out on the front porch on a warm evening, people tend to open up a little more than usual. Which is what happened when I sat with Ruby Corado and two other trans women outside a house Corado runs for homeless transgender adults. I was there to do a profile of Corado, an activist in Washington, D.C.

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Doing More With Less
3:31 am
Wed May 27, 2015

Casa Ruby Is A 'Chosen Family' For Trans People Who Need A Home

Ruby Corado runs Casa Ruby, a drop-in and service center for transgender people in Washington, D.C. Through the center, Corado helps people find housing, medical care and get food. Corado also has 22 beds in transitional housing for transgender adults and youth who would otherwise be homeless.
Lexey Swall GRAIN for NPR

Originally published on Wed May 27, 2015 8:06 pm

Editor's note: This story contains language that some may find offensive.

This story is part of an occasional series about individuals who don't have much money or power but do have a big impact on their communities.

If you're transgender in America, you're far more likely than other people to be unemployed, homeless and poor. And there's a 4 in 10 chance you've tried to kill yourself.

It can be a confusing and lonely life.

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5:18 am
Wed May 20, 2015

FTC And States File Suit Against 4 Sham Cancer Charities

Originally published on Wed May 20, 2015 12:09 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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It's All Politics
4:05 pm
Mon May 18, 2015

Cheap And Fast, Online Voter Registration Catches On

Debra Bowen, then California secretary of state, demonstrates the state's online voter registration system when it was launched in 2012. Voters can also still register using a paper form.
Rich Pedroncelli AP

Originally published on Tue May 19, 2015 7:42 pm

Voters in more than half the states will soon be able to register online, rather than filling out a paper form and sending it in.

Twenty states have implemented online voter registration so far, almost all in the past few years. Seven other states and the District of Columbia are now in the process of doing so. That includes Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill last Friday requiring the state to allow online voter registration by 2017.

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5:49 pm
Sat May 2, 2015

After Police Are Charged In Gray's Death, Baltimore Awaits Next Steps

Originally published on Sat May 2, 2015 9:57 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

8:25 am
Sat May 2, 2015

Demonstrators Jubilant After Baltimore Police Charges

Originally published on Sat May 2, 2015 2:23 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

It's All Politics
5:06 am
Thu April 16, 2015

Vulnerable Voting Machine Raises Questions About Election Security

Voters in Los Angeles County, Calif., cast their ballots in 2012.
Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sat April 18, 2015 12:17 pm

Computer security experts have warned for years that some voting machines are vulnerable to attack. And this week, in Virginia, the state Board of Elections decided to impose an immediate ban on touchscreen voting machines used in 20 percent of the state's precincts, because of newly discovered security concerns.

The problems emerged on Election Day last November in Spotsylvania County. The AVS WINVote touchscreen machines used in precinct 302 began to shut down.

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Around the Nation
5:50 pm
Thu April 9, 2015

On Welfare? Don't Use The Money For Movies, Say Kansas Lawmakers

Originally published on Fri April 10, 2015 8:09 pm

Welfare recipients in Kansas may soon be barred from spending their benefits on activities like going to the movies or swimming, or from withdrawing more than $25 per day from bank machines.

If Gov. Sam Brownback signs the bill, it will become one of the strictest welfare laws in the country. It's one of a number of such measures popping up in states that say they're trying to reduce fraud and get people off the welfare rolls. But opponents say the laws are mean-spirited and hurt the poor.

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Shots - Health News
4:39 pm
Wed April 1, 2015

Trading Walkathons For Ice Buckets, Charities Try To Hold On To Donors

A big crowd turned out for the March of Dimes walkathon in Gainesville, Fla., in early March. But overall, the March of Dimes' March for Babies raised $3.5 million less in 2014 than it did the year before.
Elizabeth Hamilton Gainesville Sun/Landov

Originally published on Fri April 3, 2015 11:43 am

Springtime means outdoor charity events, and there are plenty to choose from.

You can walk, run, bike, swim or even roll around in the mud to raise money for a cause. But some of the bigger, more established events aren't doing as well as they used to, and charities are trying to adjust.

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Goats and Soda
3:55 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Engineer Turned Cabbie Helps New Refugees Find Their Way

After a long day at the Somali American Community Center he founded in Clarkston, Ga., and then at an after-school program, Omar Shekhey drives a taxi to earn extra money. Often he gives his earnings to refugees to help them with expenses.
Kevin Liles for NPR

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 11:55 am

This story is part of an occasional series about individuals who don't have much money or power but do have a big impact on their communities.

Almost 70,000 refugees — victims of war, hardship and persecution — are allowed into the U.S. each year. But settling into their new homes can be a challenge, from learning English to figuring out how to turn on the dishwasher.

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It's All Politics
4:29 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Supreme Court Declines To Hear Challenge To Strict Wisconsin Voter ID Law

"This is just one more development in the ongoing debate about voter identification, but it is by no means the last word," the ACLU's Dale Ho said.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 3:52 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday not to hear a case involving the constitutionality of Wisconsin's strict voter ID requirement shifts attention now to voter identification laws working their way through the courts in Texas and North Carolina.

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The Salt
5:05 am
Fri March 20, 2015

Both Parties Agree The Food Stamp Program Needs To Change. But How?

A new budget plan that calls for turning food stamps into a block grant program for states could affect stores that accept food stamps through an Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, system like this one in Memphis.
Thomas Hawk/Flickr

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 12:21 pm

When it comes to the food stamps — or SNAP benefits as they're now called — there are few areas where Republicans and Democrats agree. But getting some of the 46 million people now receiving SNAP into the work force is one of them.

Last year Congress approved $200 million for states to test the best way to move people into jobs. And today, the Obama administration is announcing grants to 10 states to do just that.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the demonstration projects should help able-bodied recipients take advantage of an improving economy.

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Around the Nation
1:04 pm
Mon March 9, 2015

Many Unaccompanied Minors No Longer Alone, But Still In Limbo

Boys wait in line to make a phone call at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Arizona in June. Many of the minors who arrived from Central America last year are now awaiting court hearings to determine if they can stay in the U.S.
Ross D. Franklin/Pool Getty Images

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 7:45 am

Last summer, NPR spoke with a teenage boy who fled the violence in his home country to come live with his aunt just outside of Washington, D.C. Jose was just one among the wave of unaccompanied youths from Central America who poured across the border last year.

Nine months later, he says he's very worried about the safety of his three younger siblings, who still live back home. We agreed not to use Jose's full name or say which Central American country he's from, because his parents were murdered there in 2012 for not cooperating with drug traffickers from a local gang.

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5:50 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

Terrorism Fears Complicate Money Transfers For Somali-Americans

Customers wait to collect money at the Juba Express money transfer company in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Feb. 12.
Mohamed Abdiwahab AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 8:46 pm

Regulations intended to block money from getting into the hands of terrorist groups has led the last bank that handles most money transfers from the United States to Somalia to pull out of the business.

Somali refugees in the U.S. say their families back home need the money they send each month to survive, and they're counting on lawmakers and Obama administration officials, who are meeting in Washington on Thursday, to try to find a solution.

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It's All Politics
9:51 am
Sat February 14, 2015

Around The U.S., Voting Technology Is All Over The Place

Election worker Bradley Kryst loads voting machines onto a truck at the Clark County election warehouse on Nov. 3, in North Las Vegas. As voting machine technology changes, state elections officials are trying to keep up.
John Locher AP

Originally published on Sun February 15, 2015 12:46 pm

Remember all that new voting equipment purchased after the 2000 presidential election, when those discredited punch card machines were tossed out? Now, the newer machines are starting to wear out.

Election officials are trying to figure out what to do before there's another big voting disaster and vendors have lined up to help.

During their annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, state election officials previewed the latest voting equipment from one of the industry's big vendors, Election Systems and Software.

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Around the Nation
3:25 am
Wed January 28, 2015

Homeless Man Encourages Others On The Streets To 'Get Up'

Tony Simmons leads a group of Johns Hopkins University students on a "justice walk" in downtown Baltimore, during which they learn about public policy, providing services, and the connections between income inequality and health.
Gabriella Demczuk for NPR

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 3:33 pm

This story begins an occasional series about individuals who don't have much money or power but do have a big impact on their communities.

Sometimes, the people you'd least expect are those who do the most. People like Tony Simmons, a homeless man in Baltimore who helps others get off the street. Simmons says he does it as much for himself as for anyone else.

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Shots - Health News
3:48 am
Tue January 27, 2015

Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren't Being Enforced, Report Finds

Will Crocker Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 27, 2015 11:27 am

Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That's according to a study by the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.

The numbers are grim. Almost 680,000 children in the United States were the victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. More than 1,500 of them died.

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Around the Nation
5:32 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

An Exhibit Offers A Different Angle On Life In Public Housing

Ephraim Benton, a former resident of Tompkins Houses in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, is now an actor. Benton started a community-based organization called Beyond Influencing Da Hood, which puts on health fairs, film festivals and various free community events in his old housing project. This photo was taken in front of his old building in Tompkins Houses.
Courtesy of Shino Yanagawa

Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 6:44 pm

Life in public housing sometimes can be difficult, but it's also a lot like life anywhere — made up mostly of work, school, family and friends. Still, many who don't live in public housing have a negative image of those who do.

Two former residents are trying to change that.

Rico Washington is one of them. The 38-year-old with long dreadlocks and a neatly trimmed beard grew up in Kimberly Gardens public housing apartments in Laurel, Md. When he was younger he was embarrassed about where he lived, he says, and would have co-workers drop him off down the street.

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Around the Nation
4:21 pm
Tue December 23, 2014

Near Police Killings, A Community With A Cycle Of Crime

Originally published on Tue December 23, 2014 6:26 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

4:53 am
Fri October 10, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Court Halts Wis. Voter ID Law; Texas Law Overturned

Originally published on Fri October 10, 2014 8:05 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

It's All Politics
3:05 am
Thu October 9, 2014

Rules For Provisional Ballots All Over The Map

Adreanne Lewis signs up for a photo ID at a senior center in Arlington County, Va., with the help of Bill Sands, outreach coordinator for the county registrar.
Pam Fessler NPR

Originally published on Thu October 9, 2014 11:46 am

The fail-safe for many voters who run into problems at the polls — such as a lack of ID or an outdated address — is called provisional voting. The person votes, and his or her ballot only counts after the problem is resolved.

But many of these ballots never do count, raising questions about how good a fail-safe they really are.

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