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.

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.

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.

Mary Beth Burkes lives in Buchanan County, Va., a depressed coal-mining region where 1 in 4 families lives in poverty and where her autistic son gets extra help in the after-school program at his school.

Burkes says the program has been a godsend for her and other parents, because they know their children are in a safe place after school. "Their parents work," she says. "There is no day care in this area."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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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.

Homelessness in the U.S. declined over the past year. Even so, there were large increases in several cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle.

Poverty was one of the forgotten issues on the campaign trail this election season. Now, many who work with the nation's poor worry that it will be even more forgotten under a Trump administration and the new Republican Congress.

The U.S. Justice Department says it will have more than 500 monitors and observers out Tuesday watching polling sites in 28 states. They'll be looking for any voting rights violations, such as whether voters are discriminated against because of their race or language.

"The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote, and the Department of Justice works tirelessly to uphold that right, not only on Election Day, but every day," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

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One question on many people's minds is whether polling places will be disrupted on Election Day. There are concerns that vigilantes, armed with cameras and notebooks, will intimidate voters they suspect of committing fraud. Such groups insist they'll follow the law, but civil rights groups are on alert just in case.

Vote flipping. The stories and conspiracy theories have begun.

In every recent election, there have been reports of voters pressing one candidate's name on a touch-screen machine, only to have the opponent's name light up instead.

It can be unnerving for voters and often leads to allegations that the machines have been "rigged" to favor one candidate over another.

More than 35 million eligible voters in the U.S. — about one in six — have a disability. And in the last presidential election, almost a third of voters with disabilities reported having trouble casting their ballots — whether it was getting into the polling place, reading the ballot, or struggling with a machine.

Despite some improvements, many of these voters are expected to face similar problems again this year.

At a hearing last month on the possible hacking of voting machines, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said he was more worried about something else. The real threat on Election Day, said Schedler, is violence at the polls.

It's no secret that voter registration lists are filled with inaccuracies. People move. Or change their names. Or die. But it can take months if not years for the rolls to get updated. Now, conservative groups are taking a number of election officials to court, saying they're not doing their jobs. Liberal groups think the real purpose is to make it more difficult for some people to vote.

The lawsuits have targeted about a dozen counties so far in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Mississippi. And even some cities, such as Philadelphia and Alexandria, Va.

It's rare to get good news when it comes to hunger. But the government says there was a big drop last year in the number of people in the country struggling to get enough to eat, especially children.

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