Pam Fessler | KERA News

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.

A fact-finding hearing by President Trump's commission looking into voter fraud exposed self-inflicted rifts among its members during the panel's second meeting Tuesday in Manchester, N.H.

Days earlier, the panel's Republican co-chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, wrote a column in Breitbart News claiming that there was proof of enough voter fraud in New Hampshire last November to possibly have influenced the outcome of a Senate race.

What was already expected to be a contentious second meeting for President Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, on Tuesday in Manchester, N.H., is likely to get a whole lot more contentious thanks to a column written by the panel's co-chair.

Although the chairman, Vice President Pence, said in that first meeting that the commission has "no preconceived notions or pre-ordained results," the panel's co-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, seemed to contradict him in Breitbart News last week.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now that the rain has stopped and floodwaters are slowly starting to recede, government officials are figuring out where tens of thousands of evacuees in Texas and Louisiana can stay.

The White House estimates about 100,000 houses were affected by the storm. Many were destroyed or are too damaged to live in. More than 30,000 people are staying in emergency shelters and will soon be in need of permanent accommodations.

Disasters like the flooding that has followed Hurricane Harvey, displacing thousands of people, always create a tremendous need for help — and a tremendous desire to provide that help.

But those who have dealt with disasters before say people need to be careful about how they contribute to disaster relief, and when. Cash donations are almost always preferred over items — such as blankets, clothing and stuffed animals — often sent into overwhelmed disaster areas by well-meaning donors.

When people in several North Carolina precincts showed up to vote last November, weird things started to happen with the electronic systems used to check them in.

"Voters were going in and being told that they had already voted — and they hadn't," recalls Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The electronic systems — known as poll books — also indicated that some voters had to show identification, even though they did not.

In the thick of the presidential race last summer — Donald Trump was attacking Hillary Clinton over Benghazi; Clinton was widening her lead in the polls — FBI agents uncovered something odd.

On June 28, federal cyber experts noticed that the network credentials of an Arizona county elections worker had been posted on a site frequented by suspected Russian hackers. The password and username discovered by the FBI could let someone access the state's voter registration system.

A presidential commission born of a presidential tweet held its first meeting on Wednesday to look into problems with voting that may undermine the public's confidence in elections.

But the tweet in question, where President Trump alleged without evidence that millions of people voted illegally last November, hung over the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity's first meeting after Trump made a surprise appearance.

President Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity holds its first public meeting on Wednesday under what seems to be an ever-expanding cloud.

The panel has faced credibility problems right from the start, and the concerns have only grown:

Lost in the uproar last week over a written request by a White House commission for state voter registration lists was another letter sent that same day. It came from the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), and asked states for details on how they're complying with a requirement in the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) — also known as the motor-voter law — that election officials keep their voting lists accurate and up to date.

Updated July 5, 6:42 p.m. ET

More than a dozen states said Friday that they would not, or could not, give a White House commission looking into voter fraud detailed voter registration data as requested.

The mass noncompliance elicited this from President Trump on Saturday:

A letter from Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of a White House commission looking into voter fraud and other irregularities, is drawing fire from some state election officials. The letter, sent Wednesday to all 50 states, requests that all publicly available voter roll data be sent to the White House by July 14, five days before the panel's first meeting.

Most Americans - 59 percent — think everything possible should be done to make it easy for citizens to vote. Almost 80 percent say they oppose making voting mandatory. These are the results of a new survey from the Pew Research Center, which comes as partisan disputes over voting requirements continue in courts and legislatures across the country.

What would it cost to protect the nation's voting systems from attack? About $400 million would go a long way, say cybersecurity experts. It's not a lot of money when it comes to national defense — the Pentagon spent more than that last year on military bands alone — but getting funds for election systems is always a struggle.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Russia's efforts to interfere with last year's elections will be front and center during two hearings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will appear before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence while the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hear from current U.S. intelligence officials and state election experts.

Here are five questions likely to be on lawmakers' minds as they listen to witnesses and ask questions.

The Florida elections vendor that was targeted in Russian cyberattacks last year has denied a recent report based on a leaked National Security Agency document that the company's computer system was compromised.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As new reports emerge about Russian-backed attempts to hack state and local election systems, U.S. officials are increasingly worried about how vulnerable American elections really are. While the officials say they see no evidence that any votes were tampered with, no one knows for sure.

Updated at 9 p.m. ET

Russia's military intelligence agency launched an attack days before Election Day on a U.S. company that provides election services and systems, including voter registration, according to a top-secret report posted Monday by The Intercept.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is standing by his controversial comment that poverty is a "state of mind," but he says that "how a person thinks" is only one component that contributes to being poor.

"What I said is that it is a factor. A part of poverty can be the state of mind," he told NPR in an interview. "People tend to approach things differently, based on their frame of mind."

His agency, he says, wants "to find ways to make sure that people understand that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you, is you."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

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.

Pages