Assistance is on the way for low- and moderate-income Philadelphians whose gas heat has been turned off for nonpayment, state officials and community groups announced yesterday.

Starting today, residential customers of Philadelphia Gas Works earning 150 percent to 250 percent above the federal poverty level may apply for grants of $300 for help in having their service restored, or to forestall imminent termination.

Income requirements vary with the size of household. Families of four earning between $30,975 and $51,625 would qualify.

State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, State Rep. Dwight Evans, both Philadelphia Democrats, and a representative of Gov. Rendell's office announced creation of the $500,000 assistance fund at a Center City news conference.

The program is a continuation of a similar grant they had created last year, which they said aided 1,500 families.

They were joined by representatives of PGW, the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA), and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). About 5,800 households are currently without service, according to Ali Kronley, director of Pennsylvania ACORN.

"This program fills an exceptionally great need," she said, because home heating costs have spiked this year and so little government assistance is available to low- and moderate-income households.

ACORN volunteers will today begin knocking on the doors of families whose heat has been turned off, Kronley said, and invite them to apply.

Adult heads of household may also apply for assistance at any of the 13 Neighborhood Energy Centers. Applicants are asked to provide proof of household income, Social Security cards for all household members, and their most recent PGW bill.

Families that receive assistance will still be obliged to pay the balance of their outstanding PGW bills and their heating bills accumulated this winter, said Liz Robinson, ECA's executive director. "My mantra: conservation, conservation, conservation."

Most households qualifying for the grants will have their heat turned on within 48 hours, according to Gary Tuma, a Fumo aide. "The idea is to restore people's service in a life-threatening situation," he said.

The PGW hotline for further information about the program is 215-978-1051. The line is answered between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.