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.

Twenty years ago, welfare as Americans knew it ended.

President Bill Clinton signed a welfare overhaul bill that limited benefits and encouraged poor people to find jobs.

"We're going to make it all new again, and see if we can't create a system of incentives which reinforce work and family and independence," Clinton said at a White House bill signing ceremony.

The goals were admirable: help poor families get into the workforce so they'd no longer need government aid. They'd get job training and support, such as help with child care.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The recent hacking of Democratic Party databases — and strong suspicions that the Russian government is involved — have led to new fears that America's voting systems are vulnerable to attack and that an outsider could try to disrupt the upcoming elections.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

It's not often — if ever — that presidential nominees use footnotes in their acceptance speeches.

But last night, Donald Trump used 282 of them in the written version of his acceptance speech — to bolster what he promised would be a presentation of the "facts plainly and honestly." I was footnote number 145.

Trump told the Republican audience that if they wanted to hear "the corporate spin, the carefully-crafted lies and the media myths" they should go to the Democratic convention.

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More than 9,000 former felons have registered to vote in Virginia since April, when the governor issued an executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 ex-offenders. Democrat Terry McAuliffe said the residents, who are no longer in prison, had paid their debt to society.

But Republicans are suing the governor. They say McAuliffe overstepped his authority and that trying to restore rights to so many people all at once has led to mistakes. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case July 19.

As the presidential election nears, a number of important voting law cases are still up in the air. And that can be confusing — for voters trying to figure out what they do or don't need to cast their ballots, for election officials trying to figure out how to run elections, and for politicians trying to make sure supporters get out and vote.

Here's a brief guide on where some of the big cases stand, as of the end of June. More rulings are expected, although courts are reluctant to make major voting law changes too close to Election Day.

Local communities are increasingly passing laws to control crime and nuisances on rental properties. They do so mostly by limiting the number of times police can be called to a residence. But it turns out that crime victims — especially victims of domestic abuse — are often the ones who end up being penalized.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

This week, as part of the Nation Engaged project, NPR and some member stations will be talking about what the 2016 primary season has revealed about voters' confidence in the American electoral system.

This year's primaries have been filled with complaints about the voting process. Voters in Arizona were furious that they had to wait up to five hours to cast ballots. Thousands of New Yorkers had their names mistakenly dropped from voter registration rolls.

It looks like more bad news for the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Brian Newby is already being sued by the League of Women Voters for his decision earlier this year to allow Kansas and two other states to require residents to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote using a federal form. The move effectively reversed a long-standing EAC policy.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods have long struggled with a lack of decent housing and thousands of abandoned homes.

Things recently took a turn for the worse: Five vacant houses in the city collapsed in high winds several weeks ago, in one case killing a 69-year-old man who was sitting in his car.

The city needs to do more about decaying properties if it wants to revitalize neighborhoods like those where Freddie Gray grew up, says Marvin Cheatham, president of the Matthew Henson Neighborhood Association in West Baltimore.

It certainly looks suspicious that more than 125,000 Democrats were dropped from Brooklyn's voter rolls between last November and Tuesday's primary. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that the Board of Elections confirmed the voters were removed and that his office would conduct an audit to see if anything improper was done.

Election officials around the country are nervously planning how to avoid long lines at the polls this year, after voters waited for hours at some Wisconsin sites earlier this week. That came after voters in Maricopa County, Ariz., had to wait up to five hours last month, in part because the county cut back on the number of polling sites. Those delays led to raucous protests at the state capital and a voting rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

LaToya Fowlkes is standing outside rent court in Baltimore. A judge has just ruled that Fowlkes has to pay her landlord $4,900 in rent and fees despite her complaints that the house has leaky water pipes, chipped paint, rodents and a huge hole in the living room wall.

But Fowlkes didn't notify her landlord of the problems by certified mail — something the judge said she should have done to avoid eviction.

Terrell Walker lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Southeast Washington, D.C., with her 9-year-old and 2-year-old daughters.

Walker stopped paying her rent last September because, she says, her apartment is in horrible condition — and she is fighting her landlord's eviction threat in court.

But when tenants don't pay, landlords say they have less money to fix things up.

Every morning for weeks, Meagen Limes made the same phone call: to a court in Washington, D.C., to see if that day was the day she'd be evicted from her home.

Limes faced eviction because she couldn't pay rent on her three-bedroom apartment in Southeast Washington, where many of the city's poorest residents live.

It can sometimes take weeks before the marshals actually show up at your door, and Limes fully expected to be homeless any day.

Today, more than 11 million families spend over half of their incomes on rent, and for the poor, it can be as much as 80 percent. That means millions of Americans face the threat of eviction, or they live in substandard housing because it's all they can afford. NPR's Pam Fessler has been spending time at the rent court in Washington, D.C., where the struggle between low-income renters and landlords over affordable housing often comes to a head.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former first lady Nancy Reagan died Sunday at her home in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure, according to the Reagan Foundation. She was 94.

Early voting began this week in North Carolina for the March 15 primary. And for the first time, most voters in the state have to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. It's one of several states with new voting laws this year. But in North Carolina, the rules have changed so much that confusion could be a voter's biggest hurdle.

Across the state, election officials, voter advocacy groups and others have been trying to make sure things go smoothly, despite the changes.

President Obama backed a bill in Illinois last week that would automatically register people to vote when they apply for a driver's license or state ID.

"That will protect the fundamental right of everybody," he said. "Democrats, Republicans, independents, seniors, folks with disabilities, the men and women of our military — it would make sure that it was easier for them to vote and have their vote counted."

It's a challenge making sure that low-income children who get free- and reduced-priced meals during the school year continue to get fed during the summer.

Government meal programs served 3.8 million children on an average summer day last year — far fewer than the 22 million children who got subsidized meals during the school year.

When people had trouble paying the rent in the early 1900s, they might hold a party in their homes, with music and dancing, and sell tickets at the door. Now, a nonprofit group is holding a modern-day version of the rent party to shine a light on the growing lack of affordable housing.

The new parties aren't exactly like the old ones, which were mostly held in Harlem. There's no dancing, food or tickets. But there is music, as was the case recently in Annapolis, Md., where about 20 people gathered in Tom Wall's small apartment to help him, and others like him, pay the rent.

The Obama administration says it wants to end veterans homelessness by the end of this year — but it's not going to happen. That's partly because, despite government support, many landlords remain reluctant to rent to homeless individuals.

At the end of October, almost 6,200 homeless military veterans had government vouchers to cover their rent, but they had yet to find landlords willing to accept them. Among those vets is Joseph Coles of Washington, D.C., where you're lucky to get a one-bedroom apartment for less than $1,400 a month.

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.

Saginaw, Mich., is one of those places where economic recovery has been slow to arrive. The city has been hit hard over the years by factory shutdowns. Unemployment is high. And people have left, by the thousands.

Now, residents John and Katrina Vowell are trying to help turn things around — with music.

More than 560,000 people lived on the streets or in homeless shelters in the U.S. earlier this year. That number marks a 2 percent drop from the year before, according to new figures released Thursday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Still, some question how accurately those numbers depict the problem. There are many ways one can count who is and isn't homeless.

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