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.

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.

The South Carolina State Election Commission has just released its initial review of allegations from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles that more than 950 deceased voters appeared to have ballots cast in their names after they died. And no surprise, the commission found that of the 207 cases reviewed, there was no evidence in 197 of them that fraudulent votes had been cast. The commission said that records in the other 10 cases were "insufficient to make a determination."

Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much. But they do agree that voter registration lists across the country are a mess.

A new report by the Pew Center on the States finds that more than 1.8 million dead people are currently registered to vote. And 24 million registrations are either invalid or inaccurate.

There's little evidence that this has led to widespread voter fraud, but it has raised concerns that the system is vulnerable.

South Carolina's suit against the Department of Justice over the state's new voter ID law comes amid a big to-do in the state over whether hundreds of "dead" voters cast ballots in past elections.

The issue has been used by ID supporters as evidence that voter fraud in the state is a serious problem. But it looks as though that's not going to turn out to be the case.

Republican presidential candidates have had some harsh words about the role of government aid in the Obama administration.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls President Obama the "food stamp president" and says more people are on food stamps than ever before because of his policies.

Two weeks from Tuesday, Iowa voters will head out to almost 1,800 caucus sites to help select a Republican presidential nominee. It could be cold. It could also be snowing. And the campaigns know they'll have to work hard to make sure their supporters show up. Those get-out-the-vote efforts could make all the difference in a race that now appears to be up for grabs.

Newt Gingrich has made controversial comments about the lack of employed role models for poor kids — and suggested that they be given jobs after school as janitors. Those who have been dealing with children and poverty for years say Gingrich's comments may be exaggerated, but there's an element of truth in what he says.

A little-noticed trial in Maryland could affect how many dirty tricks voters will see in the upcoming elections — things like anonymous fliers or phone calls telling people to vote on the wrong day, or in the wrong precinct, or that they can't vote at all if they have an outstanding parking ticket.

The tactics are often illegal, but it's rare for anyone to get caught, let alone end up in court.

The government released a new experimental poverty measure Monday that found that the poverty rate was 16 percent last year — slightly higher than previously thought.

The new measure won't replace the official one, but it is an effort to get a more accurate picture of who is and isn't poor.

The debate over requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls has been a heated one. Democrats accuse Republicans, who support such laws, of wanting to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly and the poor. Republicans accuse Democrats, who oppose ID rules, of condoning voter fraud.

It's a sharp partisan divide. But a few people have gone against the tide — and they're getting some political heat for doing so.

A Democrat Criticized For Fraud Concerns

Tens of millions of Americans who are eligible to vote are not registered. So before every big election there's a flurry of activity to sign them up.

One South Carolina woman is passionate about registering those who others might ignore. Dr. Brenda Williams, a physician in Sumter, S.C., regularly visits the county jail to sign up inmates.

Williams says it's important for them to become part of the community after they're released. She thinks this will make them less likely to end up back behind bars.

Elections are expensive. And with money tight, election offices across the country are facing cutbacks.

This means voters could be in for some surprises — such as longer lines and fewer voting options — when they turn out for next year's primary and general elections.

A lot of decisions about the 2012 elections are being made today. How many voting machines are needed? Where should polling places be located? How many poll workers have to be hired?

'We're Down To A Critical Level'

Part two of a two-part report.

The gap in the wealth of white families and what's owned by blacks and Hispanics has widened in recent years. Researchers say it will widen even more unless steps are taken to break what's become a vicious cycle — the rich getting richer and the poor struggling to keep from falling further behind.

The city of San Francisco is taking one step to help even the playing field. Children entering the city's kindergartens are getting their own college savings accounts.

First of a two-part report.

Here's a startling figure: The typical white family has 20 times the wealth of the median black family. That's the largest gap in 25 years. The recession widened the racial wealth gap, but experts say it's also due to deeply ingrained differences in things such as inheritance, home ownership, taxes and even expectations.

The nation's overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent last year, according to new data from the Census Bureau. That's up from 14.3 percent in 2009 — which means 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010.

The nation's poverty rate rose last year to 15.1 percent, the highest level in 17 years, according to new data from the Census Bureau. The agency's latest poverty report, released Tuesday, shows that 46 million people were poor and that the median income dropped last year by more than two percent to about $49,445.

Not unexpectedly, the continued lack of jobs was the main cause.