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Bill Clinton

Another 8 percent are in drug or alcohol treatment. Still others are pregnant or caring for disabled relatives 4 percent each. And 16 percent are already in the penalty process, typically for past failures to accept a work assignment. Add other impediments, and the problems list grows to 63 percent. In other words, nearly two-thirds of the recipients Giuliani are trying to employ claim a limited ability to work. Herding them into a work program would be difficult anywhere, but it is especially hard in New York, where state law offers recipients unusual procedural protections.

Anyone claiming an infirmity is entitled to a medical exam, and Turner, like others, insists that some recipients stop taking their medication to appear sicker than they are. Whatever the medical problem, short of complete disability, the agency is vowing to find ways to accommodate it. State law also limits penalties for noncompliance. While home relief clients lose their entire grants when they are ''sanctioned'' for not working, those receiving Temporary Assistance typically lose just a third.

The smaller penalty protects women and children from utter destitution. Indeed, despite Giuliani's push for work, there are still fewer people in the work program 30, than there are in the sanctioning process 42, or claiming medical limitations 53, Such arithmetic literally jolted Turner awake one night with the fear that the schedule was slipping. Designing the right work assignments -- desk jobs for those with bad backs, no dusting for people with asthma -- is only the first step in the race to the deadline to have everyone employed.

Turner is filled with plans for services to wrap around the hour work schedule: child-care expansions, drug-treatment programs, upgraded case management. I visited a prototype of the program this fall and found it off to a good start. In his faith that raising expectations will do the poor much good, Turner could not have hoped for a better example than Carmen Espinosa.

After 14 years on the rolls, and suffering from a bad back, she had lacked the confidence to apply for a job even at McDonald's. She was frightened when the program sent her to do community service in a kitchen at a day-care center. But the bureaucracy can only imagine the logistics still to come -- the logistics, say, of shuttling a drug-addicted mother between a work assignment and a treatment program while working around the child care schedules of her preschooler and second grader.

Just thinking about the complexity, Turner said, ''I kind of woke up with the shakes. One of the first showdowns involved recipients enrolled at the City University of New York.

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Convinced with some reason that the classes can be a strategy for avoiding work, Giuliani has insisted that students do 20 hours of workfare like everyone else. After obtaining a list of the school's enrollment, the agency was stunned to find in August that 12, recipients were taking classes -- including 5, who had claimed they were too sick to work. Turner decided to call them in and have them screened for workfare assignments.

Anticipating their resistance, a career employee named Rose Manchell described a new tool -- a item questionnaire that asks clients if they can ''sit,'' ''stand,'' ''walk for short periods'' or perform other minimal feats. The idea was to get them to admit they could do something. Somebody said to me, 'I'm depressed! You saw on 'Oprah' that you can't work? Punitive or pastoral, the questionnaire worked wonders. Of the first students summoned, 70 percent accepted work assignments without further dispute.

Turner then put the form to work in the larger call-ins off Union Square that were triggered by his late-night worries. Clients were lined up by A.

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Like Manchell's monologue, the effort showed dual elements -- questioning excuses and promoting work -- intertwined in the agency's efforts. Doubting a woman's contention that she cannot ''bend,'' one caseworker cross-examined her into a confession that she sets her laundry basket on the floor. But another spent 30 minutes trying to coax a depressed client into trying workfare, and when she failed she seemed disappointed mostly for the client herself.

I counted two Nigerians, a Jamaican, a Russian and a Filipino among the dozen or so caseworkers I visited, and it was impossible to mistake their immigrant belief that, for all their problems, the welfare poor could do better. The day ended in a standoff. Of the recipients who answered the summons, 44 percent accepted work assignments.

And exactly the same percentage resisted, demanding additional medical exams. The same pattern continued throughout the fall. It's both an indication of Giuliani's progress toward his goal, and of the distance that remains in getting to universal work. But the events that led Maureen Scott to the office make hers a particularly sympathetic case. This is not Lester Collins. At 43, Scott has nearly two decades of work history behind her as a beautician and nursing aide. She went on welfare earlier this year, after a beating by her husband ended her marriage and broke the bones around her right eye.

Still wearing a surgeon's patch, she enrolled in an equivalency-degree program. I later visited the Harlem apartment crowded with other signs of Scott's earnest efforts: the health-care certificates from a technical school; a personal computer for her children; the barber chair from the defunct business she tried to start as a beautician. Logistically, 20 hours of workfare would force her out of her all-day class.

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Spiritually, she viewed it as a capstone of degradation: after two decades of low-wage striving, her life had come to this. Her language was overheated, but her concern is worth noting. The rigidness of the Giuliani program is both a strength because it gets things done and a weakness because it tends to treat everyone alike.

A woman who has never worked, a woman who has worked all her life -- the system presumes that workfare is the solution for both. Turner believes that it is the solution. Others in the agency think more discretion would be a plus, if only the caseworkers were talented enough to exercise it appropriately. Scott said: ''I agree that some people abuse the system, but it shouldn't be that everyone suffers. They should look and individually supervise. And that was the point of a ruling this fall that brought the CUNY crackdown to a halt. As soon as the student roundup began, advocates raced into court to argue the universal use of workfare ''makes a mockery'' of a state law requiring individual assessments.

A lower-court judge agreed and ordered the city to do individualized plans. For now, the ruling only affects the CUNY students the agency allowed most of them to stay in school. But the same principle applied across the caseload could leave a universal work requirement significantly weakened.

Arguing that welfare is not student aid, Turner said the program has plenty of room for individualization after the hour work obligation is fulfilled. He predicts victory on appeal. What Cutting the Rolls Amounts To. Beyond the legal specifics, the CUNY case hints at a broader disagreement in the welfare debate.

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The student affidavits make most recipients seem like candidates for canonization. One could say this is essentially a left-versus-right clash. But in fact it is more complicated than that, since each has its internal contradictions. If the welfare poor are really so striving, why are so many on the rolls for so long? Then again, if they are crippled with dependency, as Giuliani says, is it reasonable to expect that they will thrive on their own?

It is hard to delve inside this bureaucracy without having some sympathy for Giuliani's effort to police it. Much as he said, the excesses of the old system promoted a something-for-nothing mentality offensive to the taxpayer and often harmful to the poor. Some of the main environmental threats include: The depletion of the global resource base and the impact of global warming.

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