Stimulus check rage possibly driving COVID money violence

As the latest round of direct relief payments to Americans is being deposited in bank accounts, there has been an increase in violence related to the sought-after stimulus money.

According to FOX 8 South Carolina, 36-year-old Spartanburg man Ray Michael Bradford Jr. was charged with attempted murder, three counts of arson and malicious injury to property after confessing to assaulting his live-in girlfriend and setting their home and vehicles on fire.

Deputies said the incidents stemmed from the government keeping his $600 stimulus check for child support and wanting to "get even with those who had hurt him in the past." FOX 8 noted that a background check on Bradford revealed a history of assault and battery, domestic violence, burglary, trespassing, larceny, shoplifting, fraudulent checks and drug charges.

Paul Brantly Rawls, a 38-year-old military veteran from West Palm Beach, reportedly tossed a smoke bomb outside former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday because he was upset he had not yet received a stimulus check. According to CBS 12, Rawls was charged with making, possessing, throwing or discharging any destructive device, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. According to the arrest report obtained by the outlet, Rawls told investigators that he is a former combat veteran and Airborne Ranger and has struggled since being discharged.

Also on Saturday, an Indianapolis man, accused of fatally shooting four family members, reportedly got into an argument with his daughter’s mother over getting a cut from her stimulus check prior to the killings. Police announced that they had arrested Malik Halfacre, 25, in the deaths of Eve Moore, 7; Daquan Moore, 23; Anthony Johnson, 35; and Tomeeka Brown, 44. However, police have not confirmed that a stimulus check was the reason for the dispute.

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"We just know that there was an argument there that escalated to the point where he pulled out his weapon and started shooting everyone there in the home," Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department deputy chief of investigations Craig McCartt told reporters in a Monday news conference.

Alex Melkumian, founder of the Financial Psychology Center, told FOX Business that it is not uncommon for individuals to commit violent acts out of desperation when they are going through financial and emotional hardship, and that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year has exacerbated the issue even further.

"The year that we've had leading up to these stimulus checks and the reason for why we're in a position of even being issued stimulus checks is a year that's unlike any we've had in our lifetime. So there are always going to be people who are sort of down and out, so much so that psychologically they're willing to cross a threshold that a lot of people are not," Melkumian said. "When we're struggling and we're in pain, you know, for some people, either the ethical, moral or whatever bar gets dropped."

The American Psychological Association's annual Stress in America survey released in October found that more than 7 in 10 adults (73%) said the coronavirus pandemic has been a significant source of stress in their life, while 2 in 3 adults (68%) said they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic. Nearly 2 in 3 adults (64%) said that money is a significant source of stress in their life, while around half of adults (52%) said they have experienced negative financial impacts due to the pandemic.

Among those with a household income of less than $50,000, 73% reported money is a significant source of stress, while 59% of those with a household income of $50,000 or more said the same. For households at or below the federal poverty level, the disparity widens (79% vs. 57% of those above the poverty level).

Nearly 3 in 5 of those with a household income of less than $50,000 (58%) cited housing costs (e.g., mortgage or rent) as a significant source of stress in their life, compared with 44% of those with higher incomes.

Melkumian explained that mental health or substance abuse issues could be a contributing factor in what drives individuals over that threshold towards violence related to financial hardship

"A lot of times these things are correlated within one person," Melkumian said. "Somebody could be experiencing mania, you know, treating that mania with drug use and then also the need for more money to continue that particular behavior will kind of have them act out through resorting to violence."

For these individuals, Melukiam says the idea of sharing the relief money with someone else could be viewed as taking away their only means of survival.

"You're taking sort of the last of the last of what people need that's issued by the government," Melukiam said. "So there's a lot of sort of emotional attachment and meaning behind a stimulus check."

He emphasized that addressing mental health and substance abuse issues with the appropriate resources is a key element to reducing the chance of violence related to stimulus checks and finances in general. He also noted that families who have loved ones struggling due to finances, mental health, or substance abuse issues can extend their support by helping individuals look into other means of financial support besides stimulus checks.

Americans can check the status of the latest round of relief payments using the Internal Revenue Service’s Get My Payment tool. The first payments will go to Americans with direct deposit set up, the IRS said. After that, the agency will mail paper checks and pre-paid debit cards to anyone who qualifies for the money.

Under the legislation, individuals with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less, and couples with an adjusted gross income of $150,000 or less, are eligible to receive the full one-time payment of $1,400.

Americans who earn more than the threshold line will still receive a partial check. But the money will phase out faster, cutting off individuals who earn $80,000 a year or more, and couples who earn $160,000 a year or more. For those filing as head of household, the phaseout begins at $112,500 and tapers off at $120,000.

FOX Business' Megan Henney contributed to this report