A bill that would temporarily shield the Steamship Authority's five port communities from having to pay for the ferry service's operating losses this year has cleared the state legislature and now sits on Governor Charlie Baker's desk.

The Massachusetts House and Senate last week finalized a supplemental 2020 state budget, and it contains an amendment that protects Falmouth, New Bedford, Hyannis, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard from having to make up the difference if the Steamship Authority runs red ink this year.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents the Islands and parts of Falmouth, said in a press release that he teamed up with Cape and Islands Sen. Julian Cyr and with other lawmakers to advance the budget amendment.

The SSA has not run a deficit since 1962, but up to $26 million in losses are projected this calendar year due to decreased ridership during the pandemic. The SSA is rare in the transportation world in that it operates without any state or federal subsidy. Under the SSA's amended 1960 charter, the five port communities must dip into their own coffers if the transportation agency runs a deficit.

In mid-April SSA general manager Robert Davis sent a letter to Gov. Baker seeking emergency financial help, and Baker at first demurred. The SSA did eventually receive $12 million in CARES Act funding following intervention by U.S. Rep. William Keating, but it's not enough to make up the deficit.

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