House appropriations subcommittees began meeting this week with state agency directors regarding the budget crunch. The Department of Human Services gets an hour on Thursday. A month might not be enough time. DHS is the mammoth agency charged with housing Oklahoma’s foster children, feeding the state’s poor and caring for its elderly and infirm. It’s currently embroiled in a federal lawsuit over the job DHS has done protecting foster children. It is dealing with an ever-growing demand for food stamps — the number of recipients in October was up 26 percent, to nearly 547,000, over a year ago — and is bracing for what will be a burgeoning senior population in the coming years. The latter is a compelling issue that was explored recently by The Oklahoman’s Ron Jackson and John Clanton. They focused on adult day services, which serve the developmentally disabled and functionally impaired. Adult day services comprise a small part of the state’s elder care and a tiny piece of the DHS budget. Advocates are concerned about cuts to the program, which they say needs to be enhanced, not trimmed. The adult day services budget for this fiscal year was $3.3 million, which was distributed to 32 centers across the state. The centers also go after federal funding and rely on donations from local charities. It costs the state an average of $129 per day to house nursing home patients. Adult day centers receive $45 per client based on a six-hour day. The rate hasn’t increased in seven years. Mary Brinkley, who heads the Oklahoma Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, says that many legislators "don’t even know what adult day service is.” A few have gotten the message. State Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, is working to increase the daily reimbursement rate given to adult day centers. Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, called adult day services "the best bargain around” and said they need to receive added attention. Michael Avila’s story is one example of the work done at day centers. Avila, 38, has mental retardation and cerebral palsy. He takes a bus from his home in Midwest City, where he lives with his mother, to a center in Oklahoma City that provides the sort of social interaction he needs. Budget woes may force the center to close. If that happens, its director estimates, 70 percent of the clients could wind up in nursing homes. Brinkley says adult day centers make sense all around — family care givers can keep their day jobs, the person using the center benefits and the state saves money. "If we don’t find a solution to this problem we’re gonna be turning people away who really have no other options,” she said. "And who wants that on their conscience?” It’s one of the many tough issues facing lawmakers during this very difficult time.