WASHINGTON -- Deanna Hardy of Marshfield, Wisconsin, is stocking up on pricier food items like meat, eggs and salmon before her family's monthly food stamp benefits are drastically reduced.
"We're really going to struggle," the mom of two told ABC News. "We're going to have to end up going back to cheaper items like noodles and processed stuff because the meat, the dairy, fruits and veggies. It's expensive."
Deanna Hardy is one of nearly 30 million Americans bracing for a significant cut in their monthly food assistance. After nearly three years, the federal government is ending pandemic-era payments on March 1 for low-income families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Eighteen states have already ended the extra SNAP benefits, impacting some 12 million Americans. The remaining 32 states and the jurisdictions of Washington, D.C., Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands follow suit on March 1.
The average household will lose $95 a month for groceries, according to a study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Depending on other factors, including family size and income, some recipients will lose hundreds of dollars a month in food assistance.
Deanna Hardy and her husband Ben are both on disability and rely on a fixed-income to provide for their two young sons. After the special benefit allotment goes away, the Hardys' monthly SNAP benefit will plummet from $960 to $200 a month.
"I don't think the cuts could have happened at a worse time," Hardy said. "When the extra payments began, food prices were nowhere near where they are now."
The elimination of the extra SNAP benefits comes as wages fail to keep up with stubbornly high inflation. Food prices alone are up 10.1% from a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with staples like butter up 31% and breakfast cereals and bread each up 15%.
The boost in benefits has been a lifeline for many Americans and is credited with keeping 4.2 million people out of poverty since the fourth quarter of 2021, according to a study from the Urban Institute.
The extra money was always temporary and intended to stop once the Biden administration declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, which it plans to do in May. Congress traded the extra "temporary" benefits for a new "permanent" program to replace school meals during the summer for low-income families.
The cuts are putting a strain on families like Jamillah Smith and her 9-year-old niece. Already struggling to make ends meet in Charlotte, North Carolina, they will now have $250 less to spend on groceries each month.
"It's going to send me probably to a food pantry a couple of times a month. There's going to be a lot of coupon cutting going on, a lot of food saving apps or grocery store apps," Smith said.
Food banks across the country are now racing to meet increased demand and fill the gap created by the elimination of the extra benefits. The Atlanta Community Food Bank, which serves 600,000 people in 29 counties, has seen a 30% increase in visits since Georgia ended the extra SNAP benefits in May.
"Many of those folks are accessing our network for the first time in their lives. That's because they're facing economic challenges that they just haven't faced before," said Kyle Waide, president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. He said his food bank is now spending a record $2 million a month to provide for its clients and is asking lawmakers to make the SNAP program more "robust."
Deanna Hardy said she worries about the future.
"If prices keep going the way they're going and we can't even make it work now, what is it going to be like six months from now?" she said.
Some SNAP recipients are appealing to their states to fill the gap from the loss in federal funding. So far, only New Jersey has agreed to extend the extra SNAP benefits.