How the CARES Act may have helped reduce property crime

  • The CARES Act was passed to provide economic relief during the pandemic
  • A study shows the law may have reduced theft and burglary
  • However, the study did not look at the impact on violent crime

US President Donald Trump, flanked by US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (C) and Vice President Mike Pence (R), signs the CARES act, a $2 trillion rescue package to provide economic relief amid the coronavirus outbreak, at the Oval Office of the White House on March 27, 2020. – After clearing the Senate earlier this week, and as the United States became the new global epicenter of the pandemic with 92,000 confirmed cases of infection, Republicans and Democrats united to greenlight the nation’s largest-ever economic relief plan. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — Researchers have found evidence that federal relief dollars issued during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted property crime rates across the country, according to a recent study.

In March 2020, Congress passed and then-President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, providing $2.2 trillion in stimulus to offset the economic damage caused by lockdowns during the pandemic.

But while the bill aimed to provide economic relief to Americans, Fisher College criminologist Peter Cassino found it impacted certain property crimes.

He found for every $1 spent, per capita property crime rates like burglary, larceny and theft all showed statistically significant declines.

Although he stressed that the study couldn’t determine precisely why CARES spending on stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment would lower the property crime rate, he offered his own speculation about what may have happened.

“In the U.S. … being unemployed can mean stress, strain, all these things that are good about life go away, right? You might need to take a second job. Spend less time with kids,” Cassino said.

Cassino’s research could help explain why property crime actually declined in 2020 despite widespread disruptions to society caused by the pandemic, lockdowns and social unrest.

He said that more social spending can make life less painful for poor Americans.

“So the CARES Act and the infusion of cash and the expanded unemployment … allowed people during a crisis to not to have to worry as much about — I lose my job, what am I going to do?” he said.

Cassino did not, however, look at violent crimes for the purpose of this study. In 2020, there was a large increase in murders, with the largest single-year increase in homicides in modern history occurring that year. It would take further research to see whether the CARES Act impacted those crimes.

While some property crimes declined, Cassino’s research didn’t show a statistically significant relationship between CARES spending and auto thefts, which have skyrocketed since 2019.

Another thing that Cassino hasn’t had a chance to research is what happened after expanded unemployment insurance and stimulus checks of the CARES Act were no longer being paid out. Many parts of the country have seen increases in property crime over the past year. Might the reduction in federal social spending play a role in this?

“By applying the same logic, you would think it’s certainly possible,” Cassino said.


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